OKC at MEM Preview – Physical Battle Tonight

MEMPHIS – When two of the most physical teams in the league go to battle, both teams can anticipate 48 minutes of intensity.

The 28-9 Thunder takes on the 17-19 Memphis Grizzlies tonight in a game that will feature two teams trying to impose their will on the game. Earlier this season the Thunder beat the Grizzlies 116-100 in Memphis in a game where Kevin Durant had 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting while the Thunder’s bench racked up 52 points. The key again tonight will be for the Thunder to have balanced scoring, stay strong on the defensive end and most importantly, play with toughness, energy and heart on every possession.

“We just want to play hard,” Durant said. “We can talk about x’s and o’s and guys stepping up and how many shots each guy is taking, but it’s about playing hard. That’s what we do every single night. We might not win every single night, but we’re consistent with playing hard. That’s what it comes down to no matter who is on the court.”

Being able to play hard for all four quarters seems like something that all teams should be able to do, but it is truly a skill that teams have to develop and maintain throughout the course of the year. One of the Thunder’s best attributes over the years has been that ability to bring the right mentality and a focused mindset into each game, and then executing on that with its effort on the court.

Regardless of tonight’s outcome, Head Coach Scott Brooks will be pleased with how his team plays as long as it brings that passion and force to what is sure to be a grind-it-out game.

“There’s a lot of things I love about our team,” Brooks said. “One of them is our competitive spirit, the other one is our consistency and the other one is we don’t make excuses.”

As for the Grizzlies, the Thunder faces a different team tonight than it did in December when the two teams met for the first time this year. The addition of Courtney Lee gives the Grizzlies another shooter, but the two key players the Thunder must worry about tonight are Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, who combine to average just over 35 points per game.

Conley is the head of the snake while controlling the Grizzlies offense, while Randolph’s imposing physical strength causes problems in the paint. It will be key for the Thunder to keep Conley out of the lane and to make sure Thunder bigs like Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison hit Randolph first and get him off of his spots.

“They’re playing better basketball,” Brooks said. “The last couple of games they’ve played really well. They’re still competing and battling. They’re a physical team. After the game, you know you played a basketball game because they play physical.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 1-0 against the Grizzlies this season, and overall is 11-8 against Memphis in the regular season.

- The Thunder currently has five players averaging double figures in scoring – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb.

- The Thunder is shooting 81.7 percent from the free throw line, second best in the NBA this season.

Broadcast Info:

7:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma, Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network