The Forecast for April 21 – April 27: Flying V

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USATSI

There were moments during Saturday night’s game when we were reminded what a healthy Westbrook and Durant can look like in the open floor. Ibaka rumbling along side them, this flying V of athletes scorching down a court, just waiting to eat a rim. The first half had that familiar feeling of successful playoff games past. Every minute or so you saw one of them screaming out ahead of the Grizzlies, their bodies blurring against a backdrop of Thunder royal blue shirts, the ball not sticking, sprinting down a wooden hill. They were lighting fires to all the seats, not a soul sitting down.

The third quarter reminded everyone why the Grizzlies are horrifying. When Gasol and Z-Bo get to clicking it feels like the snowball can become an avalanche real quick and after putting up a 31-13 piece when they needed it most it will make watching every game from here on out a terrifying experience, no matter how far up the Thunder may be.

This will probably be a long series. They always are with them. They’re so physical, so much of the games can be dictated by how tight or loose the officials decide to call it. The whistles the Thunder got on Saturday night that led to Z-Bo having to take a seat early due to foul trouble might swing the Grizz’s way come FedEx Forum time. Who knows. It’s two teams with opposite styles, trying to break each other. It’s also early. It’s been one game. Adjustments will be made and execution will be attempted. It’s the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at The Forecast.

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Game II

Team: Memphis Grizzlies (7th seed in West)

Round: 1st Round of Western Conference Playoffs

Date: Monday, April 21, 2014 (Home)

Details: This one’s on TNT and anytime I hear the “40 games in 40 nights” thing from them I can only think of that one Third Day song, which makes sense to you if you owned WOW albums and makes no sense to you if you didn’t.

The Grizzlies will have no doubt put a premium on not letting the Thunder get out in transition so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments they make (send two guys back, try to keep ball out of Westbrook’s hands on throw-ins after makes, etc). Ibaka’s efficiency and Z-Bo’s lack thereof was a deciding factor in Game I but those tables can quickly flip if Ibaka’s not getting easy dunks and that jumper isn’t falling. Russ is finally getting his legs and it’s something to see. You just forget about the relentless energy and how jarring he can be for a defense. He wakes you up.

* * *

Game III

Team: Memphis Grizzlies (7th seed in West)

Round: 1st Round of Western Conference Playoffs

Date: Thursday, April 24, 2014 (Away)

Details: Another TNT game so we might get to hear Shaq read off some stats that you or I could’ve found by looking at our phones. It should be said, though, how well TNT and their entire staff has handled Sager’s absence and recent diagnosis. It’s been nothing but class from them. Also, and you’ve surely seen it, Pop’s just fantastic. People praise Pop all the time for his coarseness as if that’s somehow a skill, but this was really great. Very kind, and for him to do that during a playoff game, just so cool.

This is the first time the Thunder will visit the Forum this postseason and the Growl Towels will be out. Memphis fans always come out and the environment will be popping off. Aerial shots of people on Beale Street walking toward the Forum galore. Whoever’s announcing the game — please not Fratello — making comments about how great the bbq was at “BBQ Establishment X”. TNT shows a shot of some brisket. Everyone watching the game at home makes plans to go pick up some brisket sandwiches at halftime.

* * *

Game IV

Team: Memphis Grizzlies (7th seed in West)

Round: 1st Round of Western Conference Playoffs

Date: Saturday, April 26, 2014 (Away)

Details: This one’s back on ESPN — cue up Mike Tirico calling us Oak City again. I’ve addressed this before, but how on earth did that happen? Surely nobody in Oklahoma City called it that around him, because that’s not at all a thing. It’s never been a thing. It must’ve just been a thing he thought sounded cool, right? That’s the only logical reason. Because saying he’s just trying to shorten it isn’t valid. “OKC” is the same number of syllables.

I like Tirico, though. There are worse alternatives. See above — Fratello, Mike. Also see — Miller, Reggie. Transcribe what Reggie’s saying next time he’s doing a game. Then go back and read it out loud. You tell me if those are sentences.

This could be a closeout game, but it probably won’t be. This series just feels like it’s going to go long. By the time this one comes around we’ll have a good idea of how the officials are going to call the games and what kind of adjustments the squads are making from game to game. We’ll know what kind of ride we’re in for.

* * *

Acceptable Outcome: 2-1

When both teams are operating at maximum strength, the Thunder are better. They’re the better basketball team with the higher ceiling. They can play more styles of ball than the Grizz can. Now, none of that matters if the Thunder come out and lay eggs or find a lid on the rim, but that’s a truth. The Thunder are the better team. But, the Grizzlies can do things that can cause the Thunder a great deal of trouble. We’ve known for years, but the Gasol-Randolph combo is lethal when they’ve both got that jumper going and if foul trouble hits and Brooks has to start giving Thabeet minutes, all bets are off. I don’t care if he didn’t play half bad in Game I, when either of them see Hash stroll to the scorer’s table they must start salivating heavily. Wouldn’t you?

Still, the Thunder should protect home court tonight. If you’re a true title contender, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take the first two at your place. And, again, if you’re going to win that Larry O, you better figure out a way to take one on the road. Historically, when Westbrook’s around, they’ve been able to do that in Memphis. This will be a fun series, though. One where teams with opposite strengths try to prove their steez is best.

I’ll be smearing some fruit punch on my Collison jersey tonight because of solidarity. The playoffs are the best. Let’s get to thundering.

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