Thunder-Grizzlies Preview

After opening with a lackluster performance against the team

they stunned in the playoffs last season, the Memphis Grizzlies now

must try to improve versus the club they couldn’t overcome.

The Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder square off Wednesday

night in Memphis for the first time since their seven-game series

last spring as Kevin Durant tries to guide his team to a 3-0

start.

Following a shocking first-round upset of top-seeded San Antonio

in April, the Grizzlies nearly made it all the way to the Western

Conference finals.

Durant, however, had 39 points as the Thunder finally eliminated

Memphis with a 105-90 Game 7 win. The series featured a

three-overtime thriller in Game 4 that Oklahoma City won 133-123,

avoiding a 3-1 deficit.

“Durant is a special player, one of the best players in the

NBA,” Memphis’ Zach Randolph said after the series. “The kid is a

gym rat, he works hard. He’s one of my favorite players. You’ve got

to give him kudos and give him respect.”

Randolph also earned plenty of praise with an outstanding

2010-11 season, averaging 20.1 points and a career-best 12.2

rebounds, then posting eight double-doubles in 13 playoff

games.

But he had just 10 points and six boards as the Grizzlies hardly

looked like the same upstart team in losing Monday’s opener 95-82

to the Spurs.

“We didn’t play very well. We did turn the ball over a lot (24

times), but we didn’t guard,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “We didn’t

guard them in the pick and roll. We gave up transition points. It

was not a very well-played game by us at all.”

The Thunder, meanwhile, have looked the part of West favorite

right out of the gate, beating Orlando 97-89 on Sunday before

opening their road slate with Monday’s 104-100 victory over

Minnesota.

Durant, trying to lead the franchise to its first 3-0 start

since Seattle did it in 2003-04, already has a pair of 30-point

games after scoring 33 against the Timberwolves.

“We’re letting the game come to us,” he said. “If we continue to

do that we’ll be fine.”

The two-time reigning NBA scoring champion is getting plenty of

help from his teammates. Russell Westbrook had 28 points, six

assists and six rebounds versus Minnesota, and James Harden has

chipped in a combined 35 points off the bench in the two games.

“We have a lot of guys that can get a basket: Russell, of

course, James is really stepping it up scoring the ball,” Durant

said. “I think we feed off each other really well; it’s not like

guys are being selfish playing one-on-one basketball.”

Memphis won’t be able to keep up with the Thunder if it plays

like it did Monday. The Grizzlies had a one-point lead at the half

but were outscored 29-14 in the third quarter and couldn’t

recover.

Perhaps the lone bright spot was Rudy Gay, who had 19 points and

10 rebounds in his first game since Feb. 15 after recovering from a

shoulder injury.

“It’s kind of bittersweet we lost, but it’s good that I’m

healthy and I can get out there and play,” said Gay, who has

averaged 24.3 points in his last four games against Oklahoma

City.

The Thunder have lost five of their last six at Memphis, with

the three-OT game the lone victory.