PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS

Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West

OKC: 60-22, one seed in the West

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Memphis: Beat the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2

OKC: Beat the Houston Rockets 4-2

SEASON SERIES

Grizzlies took two of the three meetings.

KEY INJURIES

Russell Westbrook is out for the playoffs after undergoing surgery for a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Memphis: Offense 109.7 (2nd in the postseason), Defense 104.9 (11th in the postseason)

OKC: Offense 109.2 (3rd in the postseason), Defense 101.9 (8th in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

The Thunder’s ability to get consistent scoring from players not named Kevin Durant: With the loss of Russell Westbrook at this late stage of the season, OKC is forced to adjust on the fly without their most explosive player, and the one who led the team in field goal attempts over the course of the season. Replacing what Westbrook gave the Thunder will be a tall task against a solid Grizzlies team that’s more than capable of locking down defensively at times, so the likes of Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson will need to provide reliable production from the guard spots for the Thunder to advance.

The continued brilliance of Mike Conley: The Grizzlies’ point guard has played as well as anyone in this postseason, and carved up the Clippers with averages of 17.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game that were all better than his regular season averages. Conley was especially great in the closeout Game 6, finishing with 23 points on seven shots, after getting to the free throw line for a whopping 17 attempts.

There’s a reason that the Grizzlies offense, which was below average during the regular season, came to life against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Conley’s ability to have high assist, low turnover games has been key in his team’s surge on that end of the floor, and his ability to feed Zach Randolph in the post with perfectly-placed passes has helped his big man dominate for stretches inside.

Memphis is built on defense, certainly. But Conley is the key to bringing their offense to a respectable level that can actually make the Grizzlies a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins: These two didn’t have a great first round series against the Rockets, but the matchups are much more favorable in the second round against a Grizzlies team that relies heavily on its two bigs inside. Oklahoma City may be uniquely qualified to slow the Memphis frontcourt attack with both Ibaka and Perkins, as well as with Nick Collison off the bench.

OUTLOOK

The burden will be on Durant to carry the Thunder offensively in this series, and he’s more than capable of doing so. The problem is that Memphis has a strong wing defender in Tony Allen who can at least make Durant work for his points, and if the Grizzlies can force Durant into low shooting percentage games, while containing the rest of of the Thunder’s role players, it could be trouble for Oklahoma City.

The Grizzlies’ ability to play good team defense, along with their improved offense we’ve witnessed so far this postseason, should be enough to get them into the Conference finals.

PREDICTION

Grizzlies in six.

Report: Top draft prospects trying to avoid Kings

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The Kings – with their image as “basketball hell” – struggled to get top draft prospects to work out for them in 2016 and, to a lesser degree, last year.

This year, Marvin Bagley went to Sacramento and declared, “I love it here.”

That differentiated Bagley from Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mohamed Bamba – to the point the Kings are increasingly expected to draft Bagley No. 2 overall.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN on The Lowe Post podcast:

Who even wants to go to Sacramento? Because a lot of the top guys in this draft are openly trying to avoid going there. Jaren Jackson, Mo Bamba, Doncic – no medical for Sacramento. So, if they’re going to take one of these guys, they’re taking him blindly without knowing, what is this person’s medical status going to be down the road?

The one guy who wants to go there is Marvin Bagley. He actually went out there to work out, and they have his medicals.

He’s the kind of guy that he dreamed of being the No. 1 pick his whole life. And so if he’s not going to go No. 1, then he has to go No. 2.

You earn more money, and it’s prestige thing. And so, he’s been in competition his whole life with DeAndre Ayton, his former teammate. So, DeAndre is going to go one. Bagley is going to go two. We were the first ones to put Bagley at two, and Kings fans were up in arms and said, “Oh my god. There’s no way that Vlade passes on Luka. Can’t see it happening.” And, yeah, that’s the way it’s looking right now. But a lot of things can happen.

Zach Lowe:

It’s at least three or four months now that this buzz has been permeating the world, that Vlade Divac does not like Luka Doncic as a prospect.

The buzz has been so loud and so universal that it’s almost strange. So, it’s either true and Vlade has been telling everyone in the world that he does not like this guy for whatever, does not like him as a prospect, taking him at No. 2, anyway. Or it’s the greatest con job in NBA history.

Givony:

All year, it’s not just Vlade, but also his staff was very openly criticizing Luka, saying he’s not athletic enough. He’s too emotional. He’s not this. He’s not that.

Some of it might be, like we talked about, who wants to go to Sacramento? The fact that Marvin Bagley went to a workout, wore the Kings jersey and did that whole thing, I think that really put him in position to be No. 2, because I don’t know if they’re feeling that same love for Luka.

It’s just not the kind of embarrassment that they want right now. They’re really trying to show people that it’s a new Kings, that they’ve changed. It’s not the same mistakes that they’ve made two, three years ago. It’s a thing of the past. So, that potential embarrassment, I think, of him coming out and saying, “Trade me. I’m not coming to training camp,” that’s enough maybe to steer them into thinking that they shouldn’t take him.

This is hustling backward. The Kings seem to care more about their reputation than the actual things that gave them that reputation in the first place. Those surface-level fixes won’t work.

Want to improve the team’s image? Draft the best prospect available and use him to get good. Attack the substance of the problem.

Sacramento has made many ownership and management missteps that indicate a chaotic culture. But nothing lowers the Kings’ prestige more than their 12-season playoff drought (which is obviously influenced by ownership and management but is far more easily identifiable).

If that best prospect is Bagley, great. But I don’t think it is, and his eagerness to get drafted high to the point he’s embracing Sacramento doesn’t change his abilities as a player.

Fear of Doncic staying in Europe seems to be overthinking. If the Suns draft Deandre Ayton, Doncic would be my choice.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Kings are right to take Bagley.

But it seems increasingly likely they’ll pick him for the wrong reasons, which only lowers the odds of him actually be the optimal choice.

Sterling Brown’s lawsuit: Police officer involved in tasing/arrest posted on Facebook about getting same chance with J.R. Smith after NBA Finals Game 1

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Bucks guard Sterling Brown said he’d sue the Milwaukee police department over his tasing and arrest last January. The now-filed lawsuit makes the involved police officers look even worse than videos of the incident already did.

Somehow, J.R. Smith and his gaffe in Game of the NBA Finals got involved.

Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post:

Lowery posted the full lawsuit here.

There is a systematic problem where police too frequently trample on the rights of people, disproportionately minorities. Celebrating that intrusion of governmental forces is disgusting and speaks to the mindset that fuels the problem.

A few suspensions won’t fix the problem. Brown’s lawsuit won’t fix the problem.

But, hopefully, it sheds light on the bigger issue and is a step toward a solution. Unfortunately, history suggests the city will settle and just views it as a cost of doing business.

Report: Mavericks targeting Luka Doncic in draft

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It appears increasingly likely the Suns will draft DeAndre Ayton No. 1 and the Kings will take Marvin Bagley No. 2.

So, Luka Doncic – once more of a consensus top-two prospectcould fall.

All the way to the Mavericks at No. 5? They apparently hope so.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

Dallas at five, they’re asking themselves, “Can we stay at five and get Luka Doncic, or do we have to move up to get the player?” Because that is the guy they have targeted for the Mavericks.

I doubt Doncic gets past the Grizzlies at No. 4, though I wouldn’t rule it out. The Hawks could even take him at No. 3.

Could Dallas trade up with Atlanta at No. 3 to get Doncic ahead of Memphis? What about swapping picks with the Grizzlies, maybe even taking Chandler Parsons‘ toxic contract (though that’d come with complications)?

This is a common situation. The Mavericks have the No. 5 pick. They want a player most people rate higher than fifth. Many teams want players rated higher than where they’re drafting.

The big question: What will Dallas do about it?

Rumor: Chris Paul telling people LeBron James wants to join Lakers

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Chris Paul is reportedly recruiting LeBron James very hard to the Rockets.

The response?

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

According to my sources, several things are happening. A, Chris Paul is telling folks Lebron ain’t trying to come to Houston. He wants to be in L.A. These are things I’m getting through the grapevine. Chris Paul is saying LeBron wants to be in L.A.

That’s quite believable. LeBron reportedly said he doesn’t like Houston as a city, and we know he likes Los Angeles. Lifestyle matters.

But it won’t be the only consideration. LeBron is still in “championship mode,” and the Rockets are closer than anyone to beating the Warriors. Perhaps, Paul can still convince his friend to join Houston.

But it sounds as if Paul recognizes he’s playing from behind – and so are all other non-Lakers suitors for LeBron.