Memphis Grizzlies (5-1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-2)
The Grizzlies and Thunder appear to be the future of the Western Conference, at least by age. These two teams recognize that their time to win a championship is now even with the presence of the Lakers and Heat in the picture.
These teams are young, they now have Playoff experience, they are well managed, and they are not afraid of the moment ahead of them.
Sure, the Grizzlies lost to the Clippers in last year's first round, but that was a season played mostly without Zach Randolph. Memphis is getting 16.2 points per game and 14.5 rebounds per game from Randolph.
More importantly, the Grizzlies have gotten great bench production from Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights. This group plays extremely well together and with a lot of energy. There is not ever a good time to face them.
There is also no good time to face the Thunder though. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are experimenting with new dynamics to their game — Russell as a semi-efficient scorer, Durant as a playmaker and distributor — and the Thunder are still winning. And pretty easily.
Oklahoma City is sitting at the top of the Western Conference and that is where everyone expects them to end. The crazy part is that they are still coming together.
In this matchup you have two teams you expect to be competing at the end of the year against each other for Western Conference supremacy and two teams playing extremely well right now.
Other Storylines to Watch
-This will be the first game since Grizzlies assistant general manager Kenny "Eggman" Williams passed away.
-On the year, Kevin Durant is averaging 3.9 assists per game. That is not a huge increase, but his assist rate is up this year to 19.3 percent from 17.5 percent last year. Durant's raw numbers are not up much, but he is putting a bigger focus on his playmaking.
Tonight's Other Games
Detroit Pistons (0-8) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (4-3)
The Pistons are still searching for their first win, and Lawrence Frank recognizes the hardship that comes with a long losing streak like this. Frank said he is not going too hard on his players recognizing that his message may fall on some deaf ears. Eventually this team will win one game, but a tough road-heavy schedule has not helped Detroit.
Utah Jazz (4-4) vs. Boston Celtics (4-3)
While the Jazz have been on an East Coast road trip, former Jazz center Memo Okur announced his retirement from the NBA. Okur had a successful career helping to forge the way for stretch-4s in the league in the early days of the position revolution. The Deseret News though notes Okur was a great person to those who met him.
Indiana Pacers (3-5) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (4-2)
What do you do to follow that one up? The Pacers allowed only five points in the fourth quarter at home to the Toronto Raptors… and lost. That one has to hurt the psyche a lot. Luckily in the NBA there is another game soon. Indiana will have to put that shock behind them quickly to play the streaking Bucks.
New Orleans Hornets (3-2) vs. Houston Rockets (3-4)
I am sure Houston would love me to talk about the Hornets' acquisition of Matt Carroll more than the Rockets' suspension of Royce White (of which we will have more on tomorrow as the facts are still getting sorted out). White missed practice and Monday's game earlier this week and was subsequently fined. White then took to Twitter accusing the Rockets of not supporting him and working with him to manage his anxiety disorder. It has quickly become an ugly he said-she said situation.
Charlotte Bobcats (3-3) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-2)
The Timberwolves have been one of the nice surprises in the early part of the season playing without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Even with those injuries, the team keeps winning. Minnesota will have to do so without some key players. Chase Budinger was hurt last weekend. J.J. Barea sprained his ankle last week. And now Nikola Pekovic was a scratch for this game with a sprained ankle too. It is a very thin bench for Minnesota.
Washington Wizards (0-6) vs. Dallas Mavericks (4-4)
Injuries have hit Dallas relatively hard too. Chris Kaman and Shawn Marion have been in and out of the lineup. And, of course, Dirk Nowitzki is out too. Dirk is frustrated with how long his rehabe is taking, but when asked about how the team is doing all things considered, he seems pretty happy. The 0-6 Wizards certainly could make a lot of ills go away.
Chicago Bulls (4-3) vs. Phoenix Suns (4-4)
The Bulls are hoping to have Kirk Hinrich back for this game and they may need him. The Suns have been involved in a couple interesting comebacks this year already, including erasing a 26-point deficit earlier. No lead appears to be safe with Phoenix.
Miami Heat (6-2) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (5-2)
Jamal Crawford said last week that he deserved to get booed for his performance in Portland. This year, he says he is having fun again and playing loose, already establishing himself as the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. The Heat make life hard for everyone. So the Clippers will need every point they can get from their super sub.
Atlanta Hawks (3-3) vs. Golden State Warriors (3-4)
Andrew Bogut has yo-yoed in and out of Golden State's lineup as he tries to get back from the various injuries that have kept him out the last few years. Mark Jackson said Bogut will not accompany Golden State on its upcoming road trip. Jackson said Bogut will not play until he is fully back at this point. Another frustrating turn for the young center.