Memphis has been led by Zach Randolph during the postseason, as the 6'9" power forward is averaging 20.8 points and eight rebounds per game this postseason, but the Grizzlies will need a strong defensive effort to contain the playoff's leading scorer in Kevin Durant (32.5 PPG).
With Russell Westbrook out for the rest of the postseason, the Thunder certainly present an easier matchup for the Grizzlies, whom they went 2-1 against during the regular season.
It'll be a rematch of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals between the Grizzlies and Thunder. Here's your breakdown for the seven-game series.
First Round Schedule (via Grizzlies official website)
|1||Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m. ET||Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City||ABC|
|2||Tuesday, May 7 at 9:30 p.m. ET||Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City||TNT|
Saturday, May 11 at 5 p.m. ET
|FedExForum in Memphis||ESPN|
|FedExForum in Memphis||N/A|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City||N/A|
|FedExForum in Memphis||N/A|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City||N/A
Regular Season Record and Leaders
Points Leader: Zach Randolph (15.4 PPG)
Rebounds Leader: Zach Randolph (11.2 RPG)
Assists Leader: Mike Conley (6.1 APG)
Grizzlies First Round Series Breakdown
Biggest Strength: Interior Scoring
Even before Blake Griffin's ankle injury, the Memphis Grizzlies were having their way inside against the Clippers, and that trend continued as the series progressed.
Memphis' two big men, Randolph and Marc Gasol, each averaged at least 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting at least 46 percent from the field. Randolph and Gasol consistently ate up the Clippers, as the two combined for an average of 42.5 points per game in the Grizzlies' four wins in the series.
Even against a strong interior defender like DeAndre Jordan, Randolph and Gasol got the job done and helped the Grizzlies advance to the next round.
Biggest Weakness: Three-Point Shooting
We knew heading into the playoffs that Memphis wasn't a great three-point shooting team, and they have continued to prove it throughout the postseason so far.
The Griz ranked 24th in the league during the regular season in terms of three-point percentage (.345), and they are shooting at an even worse .325 mark during the playoffs.
Memphis has an inside scoring game that can combat their subpar three-point shooting, but against a high-scoring opponent like the Thunder, the Grizzlies will have to knock down some threes in order to win this series.
Key Player: Mike Conley, PG
Obviously Zach Randolph is a key player for the Grizzlies, but with Westbrook out, I think Memphis has to take advantage of OKC's weakness at the position with Conley.
Against arguably the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul during his first-round series, Conley averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 assists per game, highlighted by three 20-plus point efforts and two double-doubles.
Westbrook is the type of defender who can frustrate the opposition, but with the star point guard not out there, Conley should have the scoring advantage on offense and have an easier time on defense defending Reggie Jackson.
If the Grizzlies look to exploit Jackson and take advantage of the mismatch at point guard with Conley, Memphis will advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Key Matchup: Zach Randolph vs. Kendrick Perkins
We're going to see some old school basketball with the likes of Zach Randolph and Kendrick Perkins mixing it up in the paint for a seven-game series.
There will be no lack of toughness when Z-Bo and Perk start banging bodies in the paint, as both of these guys have built their games around physicality under the basket.
The real matchup will be when Randolph is on offense and Perkins is defending him in the post. Perkins prides himself on his defense while Randolph has been the leading scorer for Memphis throughout the entire season.
Make no mistake about it—this will be a fun and physical series to watch.
Believe it or not, I like the Grizzlies in seven games. Memphis went 2-1 against Oklahoma City during the regular season with a healthy Russell Westbrook in the lineup, and I like the Grizzlies to take advantage of the Thunder at the point guard spot.
Without Westbrook, the Thunder aren't a complete team.
I'm taking Randolph and Gasol to overpower Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the paint, and I think Memphis knocks down enough open threes to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Follow me on Twitter: Follow @Pete_Schauer