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Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Game 1


Last season, the Thunder and Grizzlies went seven games in their second round playoff series and after both teams advanced past round one in six games last week, it appears both teams are ready to go at each other again. Ready or not though, the series gets underway today in OKC.

Though the teams are in virtually the same place they were a year ago, the lineups for Sunday’s game one will look vastly different. Memphis has maintained its winning edge, even after trading leading scorer Rudy Gay before the deadline, while the Thunder have returned as the Western Conference’s top seed, despite trading 2012 sixth man of the year James Harden last offseason. And they have advanced, despite losing Russell Westbrook for the remainder of the postseason.

Westbrook will certainly be sorely missed in a series against the league’s top defense, which seemed to tighten its screws late in the series against the Los Angeles Clippers – another high-powered offensive team. The Grizzlies held the Clippers under 95 points in three of the last four games, which all resulted in Memphis wins.

Meanwhile the Thunder seemed to stumble offensively without Westbrook, losing two games against Houston after taking a 3-0 series lead. Without Westbrook on the floor, they were forced to play a more physical, grind-it-out type of game, and that’s exactly the sort of fight Memphis is looking for. However, the Thunder say they are prepared to slug it out with the Grizzlies again.

“That’s their DNA. That’s what they do, and that’s what we do. Guys are going to go out there pushing and shoving, and it’s going to be a really physical series,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said, according to ESPN.com. “That’s what both teams do. That’s what we hang our hats on.”

Even when not at their best offensively, the Thunder still managed to score 100 points or more in each of the six games against Houston. If they are able to put up numbers close to that in this series, they should have plenty of success against a Memphis team that struggles at times to score. However, for the Grizzlies, it’s all about the pace of the game and slowing down the Thunder is what they aim to do.

Considering this series was so close and so hard fought last season, without Westbrook in there, I actually like the Grizzlies to win this series. However, much like in the first round, it may take them a couple of games to begin to wear their opponent down. So, today I like the Thunder to cover -3 points. With home court in game one, the Thunder should come out strong, but as the series wears on, look for the Grizzlies to begin to exploit the Thunder’s weaknesses and advance in six or seven games.

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