The Oklahoma City Thunder open the first round playoffs against the seventh seed Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night. Oklahoma City has the regular season advantage 3-1 against Memphis. And the Grizz are a team with 35 wins and a subpar defense, right?
Wrong. This isn??t the Eastern Conference.
The Grizzlies are a 50-win team with one of the best defenses in the league. Since Marc Gasol came back in January after knee surgery sidelined him for seven weeks, the Grizz went 33-13. Their confidence is high with a healthy team and a five game winning streak headed into the playoffs.
The big overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks to end the regular season showed how resilient and effective the team is at this stage, with Tony Allen??s perimeter defense and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph causing problems down low.
So who has the advantage in this series? Usually the team with the best player, that player being the scoring champion Kevin Durant. You can??t guard Durant, but statistics show Tayshaun Prince held him to 40 percent scoring. Durant hit 66 percent of shots against other Grizzlies defenders.
Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have a tough challenge defending Gasol and Randolph in the paint while staying out of foul trouble. The Thunder had the second highest offensive rebounding percentage against the Grizzlies. Getting those second chance shot opportunities will keep the ball in Durant and Russell Westbrook??s hands, and they can hit shots.
Most importantly, Oklahoma City needs to play their up tempo basketball. Memphis is a slower paced team who focuses on a half court set. The Thunder need to force the Grizz to play faster ball to help their chances of advancing to the Western Conference semi-finals.