Memphis Grizzlies (11-33, 2-17 road) vs. Thunder (10-35, 7-17 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Offensive Rating: Thunder: 102.0 (28th), Memphis: 101.8 (29th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder: 108.8 (18th), Memphis: 109.3 (24th)
Pace: Thunder: 93.7 (7th), Memphis: 90.1 (22th)
There’s “must-win” games and there’s “should-win” games. And this one obviously falls into the latter category. There’s really no excuse not to show up and take care of business against the Grizzlies tonight. So far, the season series is 1-1, with both teams taking wins on the other’s home floor. The Thunder had a 20-point lead a month ago at the Ford Center before failing to close to first half and letting the Grizz back into the game. Since Memphis won that game, the Grizzlies are just 4-16. Likewise, OKC is 8-14. Two young teams headed in opposite directions… right now.
This season, Memphis has the worst road record in the league with just two wins away from the Forum. One of those, as we know, came in OKC. But with the Thunder finally buying into the whole Protect This House concept, winning three out of four in Loud City, there’s no reason for OKC not to run the Grizzlies out of the building. Well, they don’t have to run them out, but a win is expected.
Mike Conley Jr. torched the Thunder in the fourth quarter in the last meeting, scoring almost all of his 16 points in the last frame. Conley has since taken over starting duties, but that was against a different Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was just in his 10th start and was still sorting things out. Now RW has established himself as a budding star with Rookie of the Year potential. Conley is a dang talented player, but I think Russell will get the better of him tonight.
But pretty much all five starting spots either favor OKC or are a push. Conley v. Westbrook leans Westbrook. Desmond Mason v. O.J. Mayo seems like it would favor Memphis, but Mayo hasn’t been playing that well lately and Dez is a lockdown defender and could abuse Mayo in the post. Kevin Durant v. Rudy Gay is the best match of the night because both are long and athletic and should have equally difficult times guarding each other. Jeff Green v. Darrell Arthur shouldn’t be close, but Green has been known to toss out a random stinker. And Nick Collison v. Marc Gasol leans Memphis, but Nick is a crafty veteran and Gasol is a bit of an inconsistent rookie.
The sun is out today so some of the ice is melting, but still the roads could precarious following the game. I really have no idea what to expect as far as a crowd tonight, but it shouldn’t matter. The Thunder need to handle the Grizzlies tonight. But in games where OKC appears to have the advantage, its come out flat (See: Golden State a month and a half ago, the Clippers recently). But I don’t see that happening tonight because I feel like Scott Brooks has their attention. And if it does, well, then it’s not like I’m not ready for the disappointment.