Friday, December 11, 2009

Grizzlies-Thunder Pre-Game Three-Pointer

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 12:54 PM

Zach Randolph dominating down low will be a key tonight.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Zach Randolph dominating down low will be a key tonight.
The Grizzlies will try extend their current three-game winning streak to a season-high four tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder, another young Western Conference team that seems to be a step or two ahead of the Grizzlies on the development ladder.

I'll be there tonight and, because I won't be able to do a full post-game report, I'm going to live blog this one. So if you're watching from home tonight, check back in, or look in tomorrow to relive the action.

Until then, some keys for tonight:

1. Dominating Down Low: The Thunder are best know for young stars Kevin Durant (currently the league's third leading scorer) and Russell Westbrook (one of the game's most awesomely athletic players), but the X-factor for the Thunder this season has actually been its less heralded frontcourt tandem of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, who individual performances have been the biggest indicator of team success.

In wins, Green has averaged 17 points on 48% shooting (36% from three). In losses, Green has averaged 11 points on 38% shooting (20% from three). The pattern is similar for Krstic: In wins, he's averaged 11 points on 56% shooting. In losses, 5 points on 35% shooting.

As in most games this season, the Grizzlies biggest advantage will be up front. After struggling offensively over his past four games (7.5 points, under 50% shooting in all four games), this would be a good game for Marc Gasol to get back on track. He's a clearly superior player to Krstic

At the four spot, the match-up between Green and Zach Randolph is a little more complicated. Randolph has been terrific during the current three-game winning streak, averaging 25 and 13. He should be able to punish the undersized Green on the block provided he stays focused on going toward the rim rather than fading back for jumpers and provided the team stays committed to feeding him the ball.

But as a combo forward with three-point range, Green could be a problem for Randolph at the other end. Which team is best able to exploit this match-up could be the biggest factor tonight.

2. Mayo's Resurgence: After taking a more secondary role for much of the season, O.J. Mayo has been dynamic in wins over Dallas and Cleveland, scoring a combined 53 points on 20-34 shooting (8-12 from long-range) and doing with the aggression and confidence he showed as a rookie. But Mayo will be challenged to keep up this pace tonight against the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha, one of the league's best wing defenders.

3. Rudy's Defense: Rudy Gay's defense was a noticeable problem early this season as the Grizzlies got off to a 1-8 start. His defensive improvement has been just as noticeable as the team has rebounded to go 8-4 since. Gay is averaging 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game over his last four games, showing the kind of disruptive impact that should be a consistent part of his game. And in the second half against Cleveland, be played very solid straight-up defense against Lebron James, the league's fourth-leading scorer. Tonight he'll have another challenge in Durant, the league's third-leading scorer.

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