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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Memphis Versus Oklahoma City Preview

Western 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.  

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:06 PM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Saturday, May 04, 2013 1:20:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I agree with the analysis and the reasons for the Memphis pick.

This is what I wrote earlier today:
KD is the best player in the series, but his team is no longer championship caliber, after Westbrook tore his knee. The Grizzlies are in better shape than they were last year (addition by subtraction in Gay & Randolph's old form) and they have the size and savvy to expose the Thunder's shortcomings on offense.
Grizzlies in 6.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 1:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HP:

I hope this series is at least competitive... Memphis seems like a team that can quiet a supporting cast really quick, and i don't trust anybody on OKC apart from Durant and Martin.

The injuries do seem to be affecting everybody, perhaps it's a lingering effect from the lockout season.

So the 3 healthy contenders remaining are: Miami(Wade is not 100% healthy for the 2nd straight postseason and missed a game), San Antonio(Ginobili seems to have regained some spring to his form, but i can't form an accurate assessment) and Memphis.

Which team is in your opinion the most dangerous match-up for Miami; Memphis or San Antonio.

And the entertainment value has been sucked out a bit from the playoffs, but it has to be remarked that even the Bulls with Rose, Indiana with Granger, or OKC with Westbrook didn't have a good chance to beat a Heat team that seem to be historically clicking... what is it, 39-1 in the last 40 games LeBron has played in?

Have a good afternoon David.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 2:32:00 PM, Anonymous Eric L said...

Seeing Durant sans Westbrook has been very interesting. Durant is an efficient player overall, but it's easy to see how Westbrook's presence made Durant's life easier on the offensive end.

It's such a shame how these injuries have decimated almost all teams. Now it seems like we can almost coronate Miami of the championship, barring Wade's health.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 2:49:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I think Oklahoma City can advance one more round before meeting their Waterloo vs. San Antonio.

It's never good to lose your second best player but there seems to be a gross overreaction. Oklahoma City played fine without Westbrook; they won two tough road games and repeatedly came up big down the stretch.

Memphis was going to be a tough opponent with or without Westbrook, so no matter what happens I don't think it will be a referendum on Westbrook's abilities. That will only come if he can team with Durant to win a championship.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 5:47:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

I think T.Prince contributed more than expected for Grizzlies in the 1st round.

Regarding injuries I don't think Miami losing Wade would be much easier for other teams. He is just that little extra piece, you don't necessarily need to win.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 6:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

I don't think that losing Gay is "addition by subtraction" but having a relatively healthy Randolph is definitely an improvement.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 6:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

HP:

I think that the Spurs are the only remaining team that could possibly beat the Heat in a seven game series (barring further injuries to the Heat). Memphis' big guys could pose a challenge in the paint but the Heat would swarm them with speed and without Gay the Grizzlies just would not be able to generate enough offense.

I agree that it is possible that those teams would not have been able to beat the Heat even at full strength but it is remarkable how the rest of the league has fallen apart since James moved to Miami. The Lakers put together a team that on paper looked like it could attack the Heat in their weak spots (center, point guard) but the Lakers were not able to keep their four future Hall of Famers healthy at the same time.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 6:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Eric L:

Even with Wade at half/three quarters speed the Heat can still win the title because of James' greatness, Bosh's underrated productivity, a deep bench and Spoelstra's excellent coaching.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 6:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I think that the Thunder "can" advance, particularly if Durant has a historically great series (something like 35 ppg on .500-plus field goal shooting), but I don't think that the Thunder will advance.

The Thunder were handling the Rockets without too much difficulty before Westbrook got hurt but without Westbrook the Thunder struggled to eliminate the West's weakest playoff team.

This series certainly will tell us something about Westbrook's value, though you are right that one series alone is not a "referendum" on a player's value.

 
At Saturday, May 04, 2013 6:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

It depends on what your expectations were. Gay averaged 18.2 ppg and 6.1 rpg this season. Prince averaged 8.5 ppg while shooting .404 from the field versus the Clippers. Austin Daye and Ed Davis played a combined 35 minutes.

It is baffling that anyone believes that the Grizzlies added by subtraction with this deal or that they have a better team now.

 
At Sunday, May 05, 2013 7:32:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

David,
I'm far from saying Grizzlies added by substraction, but role players they got fit well enough. We'll see how they fare against OKC.

 
At Monday, May 06, 2013 4:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

Awet referred to "addition by subtraction."

Two of those three role players are not even in the rotation now. It is just strange for a contending team to trade away their leading scorer for spare parts. The Grizzlies missed Gay in game one on Sunday; despite their great defense they were never able to pull away because they just do not have enough perimeter scoring/shot creators. The Thunder were able to hang around until their great shot creator--Durant--got hot and took over the game. If Durant had been guarding someone like Gay all game then maybe he would have been more fatigued and maybe the Grizzlies would have built a big enough cushion to win the all important game one.

 

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