Grizzlies-Thunder Preview

After easily beating the team with the league’s best record, the

rejuvenated Oklahoma City Thunder have yet another game against one

of their fellow championship contenders later this week.

The Western Conference leaders will try to head into that

matchup with some considerable momentum by matching their longest

win streak of the season and recording a season sweep of the

visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

The Thunder (40-12) have handled the East’s top two teams each

of the past two weekends, following their March 25 rout of Miami by

building a 30-point lead in Sunday’s 92-78 win over Chicago.

Russell Westbrook had 27 points and Durant added 26 to lead their

team to a sixth consecutive win and clinch a third straight playoff

berth.

“We just picked up the intensity, I think. Playing hard. I can’t

stop saying it,” Durant said. “Every possession, we’ve just been

trying to scramble as hard as we can on the defensive end and move

the ball on the offensive end. We’ve got to keep it up.”

Oklahoma City was 5-5 in the 10 games before its streak but now

has a chance to move percentage points ahead of the Bulls for the

league’s best record if Chicago loses to Houston and the Thunder

can beat the Grizzlies (28-22).

They’ll try to avoid looking ahead to a two-game trip that

begins Wednesday in Miami by earning a fifth straight win over

Memphis, which is in the midst of a hectic stretch that includes

some formidable opposition.

Oklahoma City has prevailed in its three games this season

against Memphis by an average of five points. Durant hit a

tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final minute of the most recent

matchup, a 101-94 home win Feb. 3.

The All-Star had 36 points in that victory – including his

team’s final 10 – and has averaged 30.9 over the last 11

regular-season meetings.

The Grizzlies will try to contain him this time while boosting

their playoff hopes. Memphis will play the first of three games in

three days Monday and the third of seven in nine days.

It started that busy stretch with a 98-89 loss in Houston on

Friday but bounced back with a 99-95 victory in Milwaukee the next

day.

O.J. Mayo scored a season-high 24 points off the bench during

his team’s third win in four contests and helped overcome the

absence of Mike Conley with a sore right ankle. The victory helped

the Grizzlies move 2 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Utah in the

West.

“That was a great team win and we needed it after a

disappointing loss last night,” coach Lionel Hollins said.

The Grizzlies got 51 points from their bench in the win over the

Bucks – their second-highest total this season – and might need all

the help they can get over the next few days.

After hosting Golden State on Tuesday, Memphis will visit fellow

West contender Dallas to end its back-to-back-to-back set before

traveling to Miami and facing the Mavericks at home.

Getting Zach Randolph back on track might help. The Grizzlies

forward had 25 points in his return from a torn right MCL on March

16 but he’s averaged 11.1 over the last eight games – 9.0 fewer

than last season’s average – while mainly coming off the bench.

Randolph has averaged 25.3 points during his last four

regular-season games in Oklahoma City, and he’ll next try to deny

the Thunder their first season sweep of the Grizzlies since

2004-05.

It’s unclear if Conley, who has shot 30.6 percent in his last

three games at Chesapeake Energy Arena dating to Game 5 of last

season’s West semifinals, will be able to play Monday.

Oklahoma City is seeking its third seven-game win streak this

season.