Marc Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka

NBA Playoff Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

10 Comments

REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Memphis Grizzlies: 50-32 (7 seed)
Oklahoma City Thunder: 59-23 (2 seed)

KEY INJURIES

None to speak of. Both teams have all the guys in their regular rotations. While Oklahoma City had kept Russell Westbrook out of back-to-backs as a precaution down the stretch, but that’s not an issue come the postseason.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Memphis Grizzlies: Offense 103.3 (16th in NBA), Defense 102.1 (T-7th in NBA)

Oklahoma City Thunder: 108.1 (7th in NBA), Defense 101 (5th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Can Memphis slow Kevin Durant? Durant will be the NBA’s MVP — 32 points a game on 50.3 percent shooting, hitting 39.1 percent from three. He is going to get his in this series, but during the season the Grizzlies have had some success keeping Durant in check when Tayshaun Prince was guarding him. In the more than 30 minutes Prince was on Durant this season Durant was 19-of-47 overall (40 percent) and 4-of-12 from three (33 percent), according to the NBA’s SportsVU camera data. The questions here for Memphis are: 1) Can Prince sustain that? Durant has torched Tony Allen and the other Grizzlies’ wings, so there aren’t a lot of good options; 2) If Prince can somehow sustain it he is an offensive black hole (true shooting percentage of 43.8, PER of 8.2) and they need scoring. Durant is an incredibly efficient scorer and will probably average 30 points a game in this series, but can the Grizzlies grind him and just make him less efficient? It’s key for them.

2) Can Oklahoma City slow Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol? Last year when these teams met in the playoffs Scott Brooks played Kendrick Perkins better than 20 minutes a game and that was an issue because they needed offense with Westbrook out. This year Westbrook is back and this may be the one series where leaning on Perkins is not a bad thing — when matched up on Gasol or Randolph, Perkins allowed fewer shots than any other Thunder big and held them to 40 percent shooting, according to the NBA’s SportsVU data. Gasol-Randolph shot 42 percent against Steven Adams and 48 percent against Serge Ibaka (but he had four blocks). Memphis is going to grind and get most of their points from this tandem, if OKC’s bigs can keep them from being efficient it will be a tough go for Memphis.

3) Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley. Mike Conley has become the best point guard in the NBA nobody is talking about. He is a traditional floor general, although the Grizzlies will needs one points out of him this series. More importantly, he’s one of the better defensive point guards in the league and he’ll be tasked with keeping Russell Westbrook in front of him and out of the paint — penetration breaks down any defense, the physical Grizzlies included. Westbrook cannot have an open runway to the rim and that falls on Conley — a task he is up to. The other key that ties into this (and falls on all the Grizzlies and not just Conley) is keeping Westbrook and the Thunder out of transition. If the game is fast paced — even for just a stretch — and the Thunder are getting easy buckets in transition, the Grizzlies will not be able to match that scoring. This needs to be grit and grind at its best for the Grizzlies. The Thunder need Westbrook to put up points, especially if the Grizzlies focus on Durant, but to do it efficiently.

PREDICTION

Thunder in seven. Memphis is not your standard seven seed — this is a 50-win team that was 33-13 after Marc Gasol returned from his knee injury and is hitting its stride at the right time. For Memphis to pull the upset (and it’s possible) they will need a monster series from Mike Miller — spacing the floor has been the Grizzlies’ issue the past few seasons (only 17.1 percent of their shot attempts this season were threes, lowest in the league) yet Oklahoma City can take mental defensive vacations where they give up good look threes. If Miller (45 percent from three this season) and the Grizzlies (Courtney Lee matters here too) can hit enough threes they have a chance. But Oklahoma City’s perimeter defense when focused is too much… plus they have that Kevin Durant guy. He’ll get them a win or two this series alone.

Steve Kerr on Stephen Curry: “it’s not an injury”

Leave a comment

In the age of social media and spin, the idea of a nuanced answer — where there is some truth to a statement, but it is not the only reason for something — gets drowned out.

For example, let’s take the case of Stephen Curry‘s below-par performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder (he was 6-of-20 shooting with six turnovers in Game 4 and is 5-of-21 from three in the last two games). A report came out Wednesday morning saying Curry was only 70 percent following his knee surgery, which first led to a lot of silly “excuses” comments on Twitter. This led to Steve Kerr denying the injury, via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

Here’s a radical idea: Curry’s struggles are a combination of things.

Yes, the improved, athletic, and lengthy Thunder defense is giving Curry problems. They are meeting him out high, often doubling off the pick-and-roll, and when that pick is set by Draymond Green Kevin Durant and his length is doing a great job of blowing that play up. Also, it is clear the physical exertion of guarding Russell Westbrook is wearing Curry down.

But also, he has lacked the explosiveness we saw lift him to a second consecutive MVP during the season. He’s had great quarters — the fourth and OT in Game 4 vs. Portland, and the second quarter of Game 2 vs. OKC — but he has not been the consistent force we are used to seeing.

Welcome to the playoffs, where if someone is a little bit off that gets exploited by the other team.

That is what is going on, the rest is just spin.

Frank Vogel says it would be “inaccurate” to say he begged for his job with Pacers

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01:  Head Coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers looks on in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 01, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is all moot now. Frank Vogel has landed on his feet with a promising young Orlando team; Nate McMillan slid up a chair to take over the head coaching job in Indiana (which is an odd hire if Larry Bird wants the Pacers to play faster). But…

Frank Vogel wants you to know he did not beg for his job.

At the post-firing press conference of Pacers’ coach Larry Bird, he said that Vogel basically begged for his job. Vogel, speaking on ESPN Indianapolis Radio’s Dan Dakich Show Tuesday, via the Indianapolis Star:

Larry’s going to speak his mind. A lot of people talked to me about it who didn’t like that and it’s probably an inaccurate perception that I was begging him to stay. … I fully respect Larry and the process. He knew it was going to be an unpopular move but he did what he had to do.

“I felt like we were on the verge of some big things. We stood toe-to-toe with a 56-win team. I told my team after the series that were poised … I felt like I was going to be able to do that with this group. That was my only mention to Larry.”

Again, this is all moot.

The reality is Vogel was never Bird’s guy, Bird wanted the Pacers to play faster than they did last season (11th in the NBA in pace), and Bird thought it time for a change. He’s the team president, it’s his call.

But did Bird make the Pacers better with this move? Begging discussion aside, that is the question to which he must answer.

Kobe Bryant texts Draymond Green, says making history is not easy

2 Comments

The Golden State Warriors made history — they won 73 games, more than any team in NBA history.

But they are on the verge of being remembered like the 2007 Patriots.

The Warriors are down 3-1 to the Thunder for a variety of reasons — the Thunder defense has been exceptional, Russell Westbrook is a beast, for whatever reason Stephen Curry is not playing like MVP Stephen Curry — but there is another key one:

Draymond Green has played like crap the last couple games.

Kobe Bryant, who relates to Green’s drive and intensity, texted him a message according to Sportando:

That reflects Kobe’s world view.

It may be very different from the Warriors’ reality — even if Curry and Green were back to playing at their peak, it very well might be a coin toss with this Thunder team playing at their peak. The struggles of those two — Green has turned the ball over, missed shots, and missed defensive rotations for two games — have a lot to do with the quality of play of that Thunder defense.

But if the Warriors can come back and win the series (and the title), it will add to their legend.

Report: Grizzlies offer David Fizdale head coaching job

Bulls Heat Basketball
Leave a comment

This is a quality hire, a respected long-time NBA assistant who has deserved a shot in the big chair.

But is he an upgrade over Dave Joerger?

Apparently the Grizzlies are betting that Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale is the man they need. From Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Casual fans may not know his name, but this could be a good hire for Memphis. Fizdale is an assistant coach with a quality franchise who has paid his dues and deserves a chance. For example, in Miami Fizdale had won the trust and respect of a team full of players that had won rings. He was a guy they leaned on. As an example, Fizdale worked hard with LeBron James on developing a post game; he was the guy LeBron trusted.

But how will he deal with an aging roster that lacks shooting? The Memphis job is a good one, but it has its challenges.