The Memphis Grizzlies have their backs against the proverbial well as they are winless so far in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. As they start the second half of their seeding slate, they have to try to knock off the only team in the NBA overachieving more than them this season - the Oklahoma City Thunder. No Russell Westbrook, no Paul George...apparently no problem.
So far, OKC is 2-1 in their seeding games, wins against Utah and the Lakers - what were your expectations with this team in these eight games?
I thought OKC was going to 6-2 - losing to the Lakers and the Clippers. Well, I got the Lakers part wrong. OKC is a force to be reckoned with. They came into the Lakers game with a chip on their shoulder. The Thunder can keep a cool head about them, and not play basketball based on emotion.
OKC has blown away a lot of preseason analysis. How has this team separated themselves from the pack, and been so successful this season?
When I interviewed Chris Paul before the season was postponed, he told reporters this is the best team he’s played with - they’re young and full of energy. It makes him feel young. They also listen to him and he’s a great leader...hence why he’s the Player’s Association president.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has had a great season following the trade from the Clippers. Would you say he’s exceed expectations, and how pivotal has Shai been to the Thunder this season?
I don’t think a lot of people thought Shai would make a splash in OKC, but he has. I believe that’s because he’s being mentored by Paul and assistant Brian Keef, who’s also helped with the growth of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden during their time in OKC. I believe Shai is the one you want when your team is under intense pressure. He’s shooting 57.4% in the clutch. In February he led the league in clutch steals with 10. He’s one of the more effective players in the league.
OKC plays a throwback style of basketball, ranking in the bottom half of the league in pace, but in the top 10 in defensive rating. How much of this could you credit to Chris Paul’s floor managing and leadership?
Paul has this on-court presence that young players gravitate towards. This 15-year vet has so many tricks up his sleeve that he is teaching the young and knowledge-hungry teammates become better players. Since the New Year, the team has gone 25-10, so it seems his teaching isn’t falling on deaf ears.
What is your key matchup going into Friday afternoon’s matchup between OKC and Memphis? Final score predictions?
Memphis is reeling needs to right their ship quickly. Losing Jaren Jackson Jr., who sustained a torn meniscus against the Pelicans on Monday, is a major blow for the Grizzlies since he was averaging 25.3 points in the bubble before going down. The Thunder just shut down LeBron and the No. 1 seeded Lakers. OKC by 10.
Thanks again to Sarah and the good folks at WTLC!