Given how well the first-place Memphis Grizzlies are playing defensively, the Oklahoma City Thunder could have a difficult time getting back on track if the reigning MVP isn’t able to return.
With Kevin Durant expected to be a game-time decision, the Thunder try to avoid a fourth consecutive road loss while the Grizzlies look to match a season high with their six straight win Saturday night.
Following a 92-84 home victory over NBA-worst Minnesota on Monday, Oklahoma City (23-23) stumbled in a 100-92 defeat at woeful New York on Wednesday as Durant missed both games because of a sprained big toe.
Durant suffered the injury in Sunday’s loss at Cleveland and his status is uncertain as the Thunder conclude a brief trip. They’ve gone 9-16 without the six-time All-Star, averaging 94.5 points when he doesn’t play and 105.7 when he does.
"The margin of error becomes a little bit smaller when Kevin’s not on the floor," coach Scott Brooks said after Durant missed practice Thursday. "He’s obviously one of the best players in the world, so we have to be able to compensate for that."
Durant has scored 35.0 per game in his last three regular-season meetings with the Grizzlies. In the most recent matchup in Memphis, he led the Thunder with 36 points in a 104-84 win in Game 6 of last season’s first-round playoff series.
Oklahoma City played without Durant, Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones, Anthony Morrow and Andre Roberson in a 91-89 home loss to the Grizzlies on Nov. 7. Mike Conley hit a late go-ahead 3-pointer, but his availability is also in doubt after missing the past two games with a sprained left wrist.
Southwest Division-leading Memphis (34-12) has been able to extend its winning streak without Conley – the team’s second-leading scorer at 17.4 per game – thanks in part to its outstanding defensive play.
The Grizzlies are allowing 84.4 points and 23.3 percent shooting from 3-point range during their win streak. They had surrendered 102.3 points and a 38.4 mark from beyond the arc in their previous 21 games.
Memphis limited Denver to its lowest point total in almost 11 years in Thursday’s 99-69 win, its eighth in nine home games. The Grizzlies held the Nuggets to 33.3 percent shooting and a 2-for-26 effort from 3-point range.
”I just think we’ve got our rhythm back, and we’re going back to our true identity, which is on the defensive end,” guard Courtney Lee said. ”We’re playing through our bigs, and they are making the right reads.”
Zach Randolph finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds for his 11th consecutive double-double since missing nine games with a sore right knee. He’s averaged 20.0 points and 13.7 boards while shooting 58.5 percent over his past 10.
The Grizzlies will have to contain Westbrook after he finished with a season-high 40 points against the Knicks. The All-Star guard averaged 27.3 points and 11.3 assists in the last three games of last year’s postseason meeting.
Although the Grizzlies got Tony Allen back Thursday from a two-game absence due to a sprained ankle, fellow reserve Vince Carter could miss this contest after suffering a left foot injury in the second quarter.