Can Kevin Durant lead the Thunder to their first Western Conference Finals appearance?
Who would have seen this coming? The Memphis Grizzlies handily defeated the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs in six games to earn their first ever trip to the Western Conference semifinals. Things won’t get any easier from here, though.
Awaiting them are the young-gun Oklahoma City Thunder, led by superstar Kevin Durant and his partner-in-crime, Russell Westbrook. The Thunder defeated the "Carmelo-less" Denver Nuggets in five games after a Game 5 comeback led by an incredible performance by the "Durantula."
This series will feature two athletically superior teams led by young stars. Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City are the new "it" team, while Memphis might very well be a close number two. Both are young, fast and on the rise with regards to league reputation.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Western Conference semifinal showdown between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies.
While Oklahoma City nearly dominated the Denver Nuggets in their first round matchup, one must remember that they are still young and relatively inexperienced in the playoffs. One dominating series does not mean they are going to cruise to the NBA finals.
Oklahoma City will be caught off guard by a pumped-up Memphis team that is coming off of a huge upset of the San Antonio Spurs. Memphis will steal Game 1 or 2 in Oklahoma City, sending the series back to Memphis tied at 1-1.
After stealing a game in OKC, Memphis will come back to the FedEx Forum, overconfident.
While both games will be close, Kevin Durant will have an epic performance in Game 3 or 4 and lead the Thunder to victory, sending the series back to OKC for Game 5.
Both teams will hold serve on their home court in Games 5 and 6, setting up an exciting Game 7.
Kevin Durant will have a Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant-like performance and go off for 50 against the young and unproven Grizzlies.
KD solidified his spot as one of the league’s premier players this season and will further implement his historic season by going off in one of the games. Furthermore, KD will be fueled by a hostile environment and go off in Memphis.
While admittedly a reach, the Thunder rely on KD for a big chunk of their scoring so a breakout performance is not out of the question. Durant is the league's leading scorer for a reason and it will show.
New "bad boy" in town Kendrick Perkins and Serge "Iblocka" will rough it up with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Both duos are very athletic and very intense down low. All four will be very fired up about being the big guys for their respective squads and will inevitably show their toughness by getting into a "fight" in one of the games.
Much has been made about how the acquisition of K Perk has made the Oklahoma City Thunder a tougher, more dangerous squad. That being said, he does not make much of a contribution (understatement) on the offensive end of the floor.
Marc Gasol will make easy work of the usually tough defensive stopper, and go lights out during this series. The younger Gasol had a dominant performance in the San Antonio series and will continue his tear against OKC.
Zach Randolph had a monster year for Memphis this season, averaging 20.1 PPG and 12.2 rebounds. He carried Memphis with his incredible performance in Game 6 against San Antonio, sending them to the Western Conference semifinals.
Serge Ibaka is currently leading the playoffs in blocks per game at 4.8 and is fourth in rebounds at 11. While still very young, Serge has established himself as one of the league's best defenders and top shot blockers. He has also improved his jump shot from as far out as 15 ft.
While Randolph is a beast on the offensive end of the floor, Serge will contain him and continue his block spree. People forget that in three out of four match-ups this season, Randolph was guarded by lackluster defender Jeff Green.
Much was made of Russell Westbrook’s one-man disaster in Game 4 against Denver. Westbrook went 12-30 and took two erratic threes toward the end of the game that should have probably been handed off to Kevin Durant. Westbrook learned his lesson though, and dished the ball off much more in Game 5 (despite struggling from the field).
Westbrook will have his way in this series and dominate an athletically-inferior Mike Conley. Conley is no match for a superstar in the making in Westbrook, and it will show. This will be a crucial matchup in this series.
The OKC sixth man will have a huge impact in this series, showing off his underrated skills as a shooter. Harden will likely be starting for the Thunder as a two-guard next year and will show why in this series.
Harden is relatively still unknown in the league but will have several 15-point games that lead the Thunder to victory.
The Thunder and Grizzlies will have a matchup for the ages that goes down to a final Game 7 in Oklahoma City. Both teams match up very well in age and athleticism and it will show with a tightly-fought battle.
Only one team can win though…
The game will come down to the end of the fourth quarter, but Kevin Durant will lead Oklahoma City onto the Western Conference finals. Despite a 3-1 record against Oklahoma City during the regular season, Memphis will be unable to fight off the superstar tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City's two superstars will be too much for the Grizzlies to handle.