The NBA playoffs are more competitive than they have been in years, even between a No. 2 and 7 seed. In the west, the powerhouse Oklahoma City Thunder will have their hands full against the streaky Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis began the season hopelessly out of playoff contention, but rallied throughout the last half of the season to snatch a playoff spot over the inexperienced Phoenix Suns.
Memphis, although a seventh seed, is dangerous. They match up well against every elite team, as shown a year ago when the underdogs from Tennessee shocked the Thunder with a 4-1 series win. Similarly, the Thunder have had a great history of playoff success, advancing to the Finals in 2012.
There are a few key matchups that will make or break each team’s chances of advancing. At the point, top 5 guard Russell Westbrook will face off against the rising talent of Mike Conley. Both Westbrook and Conley are quick, able to drive to the basket very effectively. Westbrook has the offensive advantage, averaging 21.8 points per game, as well as more playoff experience. However, do not be surprised if Conley’s perimeter defense and matches Westbrook’s talented offensive touch almost too well.
Zach Randolph continues to emerge as one of the league’s premier power forwards, but he will have to match up against the intimidating, young Serge Ibaka. Ibaka’s unique post and mid-range game will be tested against Gasol’s rough defense. In addition, Ibaka, or “Iblocka”, has built up some defensive skills of his own. This will inevitably be a defensive battle, a physical one to say the least, with a focus on the boards. This is a vital matchup, with the winner gaining a significant advantage over his opposing squad.
The Thunder average more points per game (106.2 to 96.1) than the Grizzlies do; they are clearly superior on the offensive end. Conversely, Memphis holds the defensive advantage, allowing their opponents 94.6 points per game over the Thunder’s respectable 99.8. Although many fans are quick to send the Thunder forward, this will be a hard fought series. Memphis is playing some of the best basketball in the NBA this month, and do not expect that to change. The Thunder will need role players, such as Jeremy Lamb and Caron Butler, to step up, or they will ultimately fall short of their long awaited championship run.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
- Tim Sauchuk is a Staff Writer for ProSportsExtra.comĀ