Memphis Versus Oklahoma City PreviewWestern Conference Second Round
#5 Memphis (56-26) vs. #1 Oklahoma City (60-22)
Season series: Memphis, 2-1
Oklahoma City can win if…Kevin Durant channels the 1965 version of Jerry West; after Elgin Baylor suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of that postseason, West averaged 40.6 ppg in the playoffs to lead the L.A. Lakers to the NBA Finals. It will take that kind of performance from Durant--plus timely scoring by Kevin Martin and great team defense--for the Thunder to beat a physical, defensive-minded Memphis team.
Memphis will win because…the Grizzlies matched up well even with a full-strength Oklahoma City team; without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder simply are not an elite level squad. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will pound the Thunder inside and the Thunder sans Westbrook will not be able to counter by speeding up the tempo of the game.
Other things to consider: Injuries have been the dominant theme of the 2013 playoffs so far; virtually every team that even had half a thought about challenging the Miami Heat has lost at least one All-Star to a season-ending injury, a list that includes Chicago (Derrick Rose), Boston (Rajon Rondo), Indiana (Danny Granger) and Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook). The Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs--who are both banged up but have not lost any key players to season-ending injuries--are probably the only remaining teams that can remotely threaten the Heat. I still do not think that trading Rudy Gay was the right decision--and none of the players who the Grizzlies acquired for Gay made a significant contribution in Memphis' first round victory over the L.A. Clippers--but the Westbrook injury wrote the Grizzlies' ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
As Oklahoma City struggled to close out the eighth seeded Houston Rockets without Westbrook, perhaps Westbrook's critics began to understand why Tim Grover said that Westbrook, not Durant, is the Thunder's "Cleaner"--Grover is correct that Westbrook is "100% fearless" and it is glaringly obvious that the Thunder miss not only Westbrook's production but also his mindset/attitude.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:06 PM