Playoff Preview: Grizzlies-Thunder Game 1

They are here! The Playoffs are here!

The NBA Playoffs continue at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN as the Thunder host the Grizzlies in the 2-7 matchup of the Western Conference. Before each game, we will have a quick preview of the upcoming game with a matchup to watch and a stat to chew on as you watch the game.

Previously on Lost:

It has been a long time since these two teams played each other. Feb. 28 to be exact. The Grizzlies are almost a completely different team since then. Kevin Durant scored 30 of his 37 points in the second half as he did what his team needed to stave off the Grizzlies.

Yes, Memphis had Marc Gasol in this one and he played exceptionally well. But this Grizzlies team is different from that one. It does not feel like there is a whole lot we can learn from the last time these two teams faced.

Matchup to Watch: Serge Ibaka vs. Zach Randolph

This is obviously the juiciest matchup in this series. It is strength on strength as Ibaka’s athletic defense goes up against Randolph’s footwork and post presence. It has always been great to see these two guys go against each other in the Playoffs and they will do it again here.

What really might decide this game and the series is how they do on the other side of the ball however. Ibaka is going to have to make that 15-foot jumper he has to spread the floor and get Randolph into a little bit of foul trouble at the very least. Randolph is going to have to keep Ibaka off the offensive glass and make it hard for him to get involved offensively. That might be a key way for Memphis to stay in this one.

MarcGasolGrizzlies_SergeIbakaThunder051113Stat to Chew on: Gasol’s return

Ever since Marc Gasol returned to the lineup full time, the Grizzlies have been a completely different team. Since his return January 14, the Grizzlies have gone 33-13 and have completely turned their season around. Memphis was worse than .500 at that point. Things have obviously changed as the Grizzlies charged into the Playoffs.

Gasol’s presence though might be dubious and Memphis might be better off matching the Thunder’s small lineup. The Grizzlies have a 104.9 offensive rating with Gasol off the floor compared to a 101.7 offensive rating when he is on the floor. The defense is virtually the same too. That might mean Gasol’s presence in the lineup is more coincidence to the team’s success than previously believed.

Strike this as a case of the eyes not meeting the numbers.

Bloggers’ Corner:

Royce Young of Daily ThunderIt’s not a surprise or anything, but it is something that still kind of amazes me. NBA playoff basketball in Oklahoma City. But it’s not about that, not anymore. It’s not about just appreciating the fact the Thunder are there, that we all have a ticket to the main event. Nope, now the opening round is just something that has to be got through before the next thing they have to get through. With what this team has accomplished and how they’ve progressed the last few years, anything less than a trip to the Western Finals is a colossal failure.

Zach Thomas of 3 Shades of BlueWhile different key players have been missing at various times throughout the series (and even regular season match ups) the major rotation players are similar and remain unchanged. The most obvious missing name is Russell Westbrook for the Thunder. However, if there is any encouragement, in 2011 the Grizzlies (less Rudy Gay) took the Thunder to 7 games before losing the series while James Harden was coming off the bench. This year there is no Rudy Gay nor James Harden for either team, and the Grizzlies won 4-1 last year without Russell Westbrook. Does Russ make a difference? Absolutely. Does he make a 3 game difference?

Philip’s Running Prediction: The Grizzlies should feel confident with the way they have played against the Thunder in the past and the way they have played entering the Playoffs. Oklahoma City has been shaky but still winning. The question is whether the Thunder can crack that defense. They certainly can. How often is the question. This is going to be a really interesting series and the trips to Memphis will be key. OKC gets one, the one that ends it in six.

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily