Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Bench Play Key to Huge Western Conference Matchup

Ryan Clutter@@rclutt07Contributor IIIMarch 20, 2013

Kevin Martin is Oklahoma City's best bench player.
Kevin Martin is Oklahoma City's best bench player.Brett Deering/Getty Images

Two of the Western Conference’s best teams go head-to-head in what should be a thrilling matchup.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are leading the Northwest Division, though the red-hot Denver Nuggets are putting the pressure on. The Memphis Grizzlies are 5.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs and sit third in the Conference, four games behind the Thunder.

At FedExForum, the Grizzlies home arena, they are 26-8 on the season and have won eight in a row on their home court. The Thunder, meanwhile, have won 11 of 14, though they’re coming off a loss to the Denver Nuggets at home. 

Oklahoma City is the best team in the NBA after a loss, going 29-6 since the start of last season.

With the star power in this contest, the game is going to be decided by the bench. Yes, Kevin Durant could drop 40 and Zach Randolph could grab 15 boards, but the ability of the bench players to be ready when their numbers are called will be the turning point. 

In the last meeting between these teams, a 106-89 Thunder victory, it was the Thunder bench who stepped up. Outscoring the Grizzlies bench 40-16, the Thunder reserves played a huge role in the victory. 

Though Memphis upgraded its bench in the Rudy Gay trade, expect to see more of the same tonight from the Thunder.

The starting five for each team is multi-faceted. They have clear shooters, guys who can rebound the basketball and guys who will be physical and battle on the post. 

When you look at the bench, Memphis doesn’t have the caliber of players to match up with Oklahoma City. 

Jerryd Bayless has been playing great basketball and can hold his own on the offensive end. He scored 15 points in the win against Minnesota on Monday and 24 points in the loss to Utah last Saturday. With 6’10” forward Ed Davis, the Grizzlies have a bench with a strong rebounder and efficient scorer.

However, Oklahoma City has Sixth Man of the Year candidate Kevin Martin, who’s scored an average of 13.2 points the past four games. He facilitates the offense when Russell Westbrook isn't on the floor.

With Derek Fisher and Nick Collison, the bench advantage goes to Oklahoma City. If Hasheem Thabeet is ready to go tonight, he will be eager to play well against his former team. 

The Thunder bench got torched last night against the Nuggets, and if their record after a loss is any indication tonight for OKC, that won’t happen again tonight.