WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Desmond Bane (Out, toe), Danny Green (Out, knee), Jake LaRavia (Out, G League Assignment), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Out, G League Two-Way Transfer)
OKLAHOMA CITY: Luguentz Dort (Questionable, hand), Darius Bazley (Out, Non-COVID illness), Ousmane Dieng (Out, wrist), Chet Holmgren (Out, foot), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Out, ankle), Kenrich Williams (Out, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, John Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
OKLAHOMA CITY: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Aaron Wiggins, Jalen Williams, Aleksej Pokusevski
The Grizzlies tip off a 4 game road trip with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Grizzlies are currently on a 7-game win streak, while the Thunder sputter into the contest having lost 5 games in a row. It will be the third meeting between these two teams in the span of a month, with the Grizzlies winning the first two matchups in Memphis.
While OKC isn’t the most formidable opponent, the Grizzlies need to be as locked in as they were on the recent 5 game home stand. The Grizzlies have struggled on the road compared to last season, and Dillon Brooks even admitted post game on Thursday that the team started the year with the mindset they could just walk in and beat teams like they did a few seasons ago and it led to some bad losses on the road (as DB specifically mentioned a loss on the road to OKC two seasons ago). With OKC on the second night of a back-to-back and an already lengthy injury report, it will be interesting to see who all plays on their side but the Grizzlies should go into the game with the mindset every one will be available. With that in mind, here are some keys to tonight’s game.
Dillon the Villain
While Jaren Jackson Jr. has (understandably) gotten a ton of shine on the defensive end since his return last month, Dillon Brooks has quietly put up a Defensive Player of the Year campaign, often shutting down the opposing teams best player. He had Khris Middleton in hell on Thursday, holding him to just 3 points on 1-12 shooting, including 1-8 from beyond the arc. Dillon’s matchup tonight will likely be a familiar foe in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA has had a monster season, averaging 31 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting above 50% from the field. He has not had that success against Dillon Brooks and the Grizzlies. SGA has arguably had his two worst games of the season against Memphis this year. In the first matchup, SGA was held to a season low 15 points on 6-18 shooting. In the second matchup SGA was able to score 26 points, but 17 of those came from the free throw line. SGA shot a season low 4-14 (28.6%) from the field that night with his only offense coming from creating (and dramatizing) contact. It takes a team effort to slow SGA down, but it starts with Dillon Brooks. If DB and the Grizzlies can contain SGA like they have twice already this season, it could be another long night for the Thunder.
Crash the boards
With 2nd overall pick Chet Holmgren out all season, the Thunder have been starting Aleksej Pokusevski at center. Pokusevski, standing at 7’0” and 190 pounds is no match for Steven Adams who has 75 pounds on the Thunder center. Any talk of rebounding with the Grizzlies starts with Steven Adams, who is top 10 in rebounds per game and leads the league with 4.8 offensive rebounds per game. In the first matchup, the Grizzlies dominated the boards as they out rebounded the Thunder 57-43, including 17 offensive rebounds. The Thunder had a better collective effort in the second matchup as the Grizzlies won the rebounding battle 50-48 and were limited to just 10 offensive rebounds. In that matchup, Josh Giddey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl were more aggressive attacking the glass. The Grizzlies can’t just leave it all to Steven Adams to take care of the rebounding battle. With Adams drawing so much attention, the Grizzlies guards and wings will need to be sure to come to the ball as Adams boxes out multiple players like he has done so much already in his career. Adams will likely get his fair share of boards, but it’ll be up to Ja Morant, John Konchar and Dillon Brooks etc. to put in that extra effort on the glass to secure the rebound.
With a focus on rebounding, it’s also natural that points in the paint will be a key factor in the game. In the first matchup, OKC actually won the paint battle 56-46 but the Grizzlies dominated in the second matchup 62-38. While it isn’t always necessarily hand in hand, dominating the boards typically leads to paint success.
While it’s hard to really make a prediction without knowing what the Thunder will do on the second night of a back-to-back, I feel pretty confident in the Grizzlies ability to take care of business to start off the road trip. When talking about the upcoming road trip after Thursday’s win, multiple players mentioned how they needed to carry that momentum on the road and throw the first punch and get off to a good start. It will be important for the Grizzlies to get off to a good start in the first quarter tonight, and in the first game of the road trip.
While it could be tempting for the Grizzlies to look ahead to their visits to Denver, Phoenix and Golden State, it sure sounds like they’ve learned from the early season road struggles and have a point to make on this road trip. Whether the Thunder have a majority of their key healthy guys in SGA, Giddey and Lu Dort (with Dort picking up an injury last night, I’m suspecting he won’t play tonight) or not I expect the Grizzlies to extend their win streak to 8 games and start the road trip with a convincing win.
Memphis 122, Oklahoma City 105