- When: Wednesday, 11 February 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
The Oklahoma City Thunder head into the All-Star break having achieved what likely has been their first, and most significant, goal in this turbulent season. Build some momentum and some chemistry and stay within striking distance of the 8th seed. In their last 5 games, the Thunder are an Anthony Davis 30-feet heave away from likely being 5-0. Phoenix has sputtered a bit in the past month, and the Thunder find themselves only 1 game back of the Suns. All three teams battling for the 8th spot (Phoenix, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City) come into Wednesday’s action with 25 losses each. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are doing what they have done for the past 6 seasons, which is carry the brunt of the Thunder’s offensive load. Reggie Jackson seems to have remembered how to play basketball in the past week and a half. And the Thunder rookie Mitch McGary, having finally gotten over the myriad of injuries that have plagued his inaugural season, has been a breath of fresh air in the past two games, getting a double-double in both games.
This is the third of four meetings between these two bitter rivals. The Grizzlies have won the first two games of the season series. In the first game, the Thunder, who were without Westbrook and Durant, battled valiantly against the Grizzlies, but came up short as Serge’s Ibaka’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer just missed. In the second meeting of the season, Durant attempted to come back from a toe injury, but looked out of sorts the entire game. The Thunder were likely pressing, having just lost to the New York Knicks in their previous game, and came out tight. They eventually lost the game 85-74. These two teams have previously met in the playoffs in 3 of the last 5 seasons, with two of those series going to a decisive 7th game.
The Grizzlies come into the game with a 39-13 record, good for 2nd in the Western Conference. They’ve won 14 of their last 16 games and seem to be over some of the early season injuries that have plagued them (Mike Conley’s ankles and Zach Randolph’s knee). During this stretch, they’ve also had to assimilate a new rotation player in Jeff Green. The Grizzlies sport one of the best defenses in the league, as they allow only 95.6 points per game (No. 1 in that category) and are the 5th best in terms of defensive rating. They do a good job of defending, without fouling, allowing only 20.5 free throw attempts per game, good for 3rd in the league. The Grizzlies are led by Conley, one of the most underrated floor generals in the league, who is averaging 17 points and 5.4 assists per game. On the wings, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green provide a good contrast in style, with Lee being the perimeter threat (45.8% from 3-point territory) and Green being the jack-of-all-trades. Up front, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are arguably the best big man duo in the league. Between them, they average 35.3 points and 20.1 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies feature a veteran bench that won’t lose them any games. Their top reserves are Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, and Beno Udrih.
Probable Starting Line-Ups
- PG – Mike Conley
- SG – Courtney Lee
- SF – Jeff Green
- PF – Zach Randolph
- C – Marc Gasol
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Kendrick Perkins
3 Keys to the Game
1. Pace – The Grizzlies love to slow it down and play half court offense. They do a great job of playing inside/out with the two big men and with Conley’s ability to get into the lane. If the game is in the high 80’s to low 90’s, that pace favors the Grizzlies. But if the Thunder can get out in transition and push the pace efficiently on their end, then a higher scoring game will definitely be in the Thunder’s favor. Plus, the Grizzlies are on the second game of a back to back.
2. McGary – This is the first game where McGary’s name will likely appear on someone’s scouting report. He’s the great unknown in regards to playing against the Thunder. If he’s on the floor with Durant and Westbrook, it opens up another fold to the Thunder’s offensive scheme that opponent’s have rarely seen: a big man that can finish off the roll in the pick-n-roll.
3. Playoffs – The 8th seed is in play. The Thunder, Suns, and Pelicans all have 25 losses as of Wednesday, with the Suns having played one more game than the other two teams after tonight. It will be a fight to the end of the season. The Thunder have battled all this way. Let’s head into the All-Star break with some momentum, down only 1/2 game from the 8th spot.