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Preview: Grizzlies vs. Thunder

In a season filled with dramatic buzzer beaters and thrills, the Grizzlies picked up arguably their most impressive win of the season last night against the Mavericks. They won’t have too much time to reflect on Zach Randolph’s heroics, however, as Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in town for a matchup tonight. While the back-to-back set prevents the Grizzlies from being able to enjoy the win for too long, the way in which the Grizzlies picked up the win last night should go a long way towards building on their collective confidence as a team. They came back from an 18 point deficit. Coming into the game the Mavericks were the hottest team in basketball, having won eight in a row and 18 of 19 contests. They had dropped a disappointing contest at home to the New Orleans Hornets on Friday, slowing down their momentum. Not to mention that the Grizzlies were still without their star forward Rudy Gay, who is working his way back from a left shoulder subluxation. Despite these factors the Grizzlies were able to still come away with a win thanks to the toughness and never give up attitude that is starting to become the identity of this squad. The comeback victory marked the eighth time this season that the Grizzlies have come back from a second half double digit deficit to come away with a victory. The win against the Mavericks also marked the first time in the franchise’s history that they’ve taken the season series from Dallas. To say that last night’s win is one that helps to define a season and a team would be an understatement. They’ll attempt to win the season series against the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight after taking two of their first three contests with the Thunder this season.

Here are a few things to watch for in tonight’s contest…

Speaking of tough:

The last time these two teams met the Grizzlies put together a perfect example of their aforementioned toughness. Rudy Gay missed the contest because of a toe injury and O.J. Mayo missed because of a league suspension and they were coming off a tough loss to the Los Angeles Lakers the night before. As has been the case all season, however, Zach Randolph carried the squad with 31 points and 14 rebounds, while Tony Allen played a big role on both sides of the ball, suffocating Kevin Durant while scoring a season-high 27 points. The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 13 points before coming back to pick up the win in Oklahoma City in overtime. With Shane Battier added to the roster since that last matchup, the Grizzlies now have two defenders in Allen and Battier who they can send at Durant to throw off his rhythm. If the Grizzlies can pick up a win tonight they will assured themselves of at least three wins during a tough stretch against seven straight postseason teams.

Stat of the night:

After last night’s win against the Mavericks the Grizzlies moved to 8-6 this season against the top four teams in the Western Conference (San Antonio, 1-2; Los Angeles Lakers, 2-2; Dallas Mavericks, 3-1; Oklahoma City Thunder, 2-1).

Matchup of the night:

Mike Conley will have to be extremely alert defensively tonight when he matches up against one of the league’s most explosive floor generals in Russell Westbrook. In their three previous meetings this season Westbrook has gotten the best of Conley, despite Memphis getting the upper-hand of Oklahoma City. Westbrook has been dominant averaging 23.7 ppg, 9.7 apg and 4.67 apg in the teams’ three meetings this season. Besides those impressive numbers Westbrook has also averaged 10 free throw attempts in each of the meetings, which shows his ability to manufacture points. If Conley can keep Westbrook out the lane he should have a good chance of containing the Thunder All-Star. Conley played the entire second half last night, but the Thunder went to overtime against the Suns, so fatigue for both players could be a factor tonight.