This has the potential to be the most intriguing series in the second round.
This is another favorable match-up for Memphis as they have beaten the Thunder three times this year. The Grizzlies have the size to give them problems and they also have the defense on the perimeter to make things difficult.
The Thunder have a lot of confidence after beating a good Nuggets team. They have two stars capable of carrying the load right through to the conference finals. They have a center with experience and can beat you playing in a physical style, or can run and gun.
One of the keys to this series is tempo: Memphis wants to keep it slow; Oklahoma City wants to get out in transition and get easy baskets.
Whoever can impose their will the best will be in line to win.
Remember, even though the Thunder have size, their big guys don't get the ball in the post a lot to score. Their bigs are just not skilled scorers in the post.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies do a lot of their damage from the post with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. If they get the Thunder bigs in foul trouble, they can put themselves in position to pull another upset.
Mike Conley vs Russell Westbrook
I like what Conley has done from the point in this year's playoffs, but there is no way he can stop or slow down Westbrook.
He doesn't have the size or athletic ability to bother Westbrook enough. When you turn the tables, Westbrook is so good on defense, that Conley will not get away with careless passes. They will end up as fast break dunks for the Thunder.
If Conley comes with his A game, he can he can possibly offset what Westbrook will do, but he will need, and get help from his bigs when Westbrook tries to get to the basket in their half court offense.
Edge: Westbrook. No surprise there.
Sam Young vs Thabo Sefalosha
Sam Young has improved on a regular basis since being put in the starting line-up. He is an excellent defender, and I wouldn't be surprised if he spent some time guarding Westbrook or even Durant in this series.
He has gotten more confidence in his mid range game and hit some big jump shots against the Spurs. Sefalosha is pretty solid himself, but can be streaky with his jump shot.
I like both of these role players and they are pretty good role players.
Young has been coming on strong and getting better, so I think he would be more reliable at this point. I will give him the edge because he has been contributing more offensively in the playoffs.
Edge: Sam Young
Tony Allen vs Kevin Durant
This match-up reminds me of of one phrase that a dork made on a basketball commercial once: "You can't stop me, you can only hope to contain me."
Allen can't completely stop Durant, but he as to make him a volume shooter. It's ok if Durant has to take 30 shots to get 30 points; that just means that the other Thunder players will not be involved in the offense that much.
It is also critical that he make Durant defend him as well. Allen can be wild on the offense end of the court, and he can't try to do too much. He needs to be physical with Durant and try to take him out of his game.
He has to make it a street fight. Durant won't shy away, but it is not the type of game he prefers to play.
As a team they have to beat Durant up to the point where he will not want to come in the paint any more.
Zach Randolph vs. Serge Ibeka
I just believe that Zebo always finds a way to get it done in the paint area. No one seems to be able to stop him completely and I haven't seen anyone do it to this point.
Ibeka is an excellent shot blocker and defender, but I can't see him neutralizing Zebo to the point where he is not a factor.
There is one area that Ibeka has a clear advantage: He can get up and down the court much faster than Zebo. When the Thunder get the rebound and are running Ibeka should be able to get a few fast break points while Zach is still trying to lumber down the court.
Randolph has to win this match-up for Memphis to have a chance. He has to get Ibeka in foul trouble and make him a non factor.
That will be difficult, but no one has been able to defend him consistently for the whole year, so I think Ibeka will have his hands full.
Edge: Zach Randolph
Marc Gasol vs Kendrick Perkins
Gasol has proved his metal in this year's playoffs, as he has played a physical style, and gotten key rebounds in key situations. He is not a consistent go to option in the post, but he can score from there.
Gasol is key to what Memphis does because without his presence in the middle, their physical, bruising style would not work as good as it has.
Perkins is not an offensive threat, so Gasol will be able to make sure that the Thunder players don't get to the hoop unhindered. Perkins will not be able to push Gasol around like the Spurs big men.
Perkins will have his work cut out for him because it is his job to make sure that the Grizzlies don't physically overwhelm them inside.
That is why they traded for him. That is his job.
If the Thunder get destroyed inside, you will have to look at how Perkins played and hold him at least partly responsible. Perkins has his work cut out for him.
Edge: Marc Gasol
Durant is going to get his, but Oklahoma City can't afford for Randolph and his friends to dominate the paint area. If they allow them to do that on a consistent basis, they will lose this series.
The Grizzlies are playing for keeps.
They are playing like some of the throw-back Knick teams that just pounded you into submission. This will also test the mettle of the Thunder, and we will find out if they are ready to take the next step.
They can't play soft now and get away with it. The match-ups say that Memphis will win in seven games, but I am going with Oklahoma City in seven because of their experience.
This is foreign territory for the Grizzlies.
Either way you slice it, it will be a close series.