- Tip-off: 7 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
For a while there, the possibilities were so endless, the tiebreakers so complicated, that it was nearly impossible to get a read on the Thunder’s playoff odds or matchup. Over the past 36 hours, the picture has become much, clearer.
With a win tonight in Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder can move to 48-34 on the season and guarantee itself either the No. 4 or No. 6 seed, setting up a date with the Utah Jazz in either situation. If Utah defeats the Portland Trail Blazers tonight, the Thunder will head to Salt Lake City this weekend. If the Jazz lose, Oklahoma City will be getting ready to host the first two games of a first-round series.
On the other hand, if the Thunder falls to the Grizzlies tonight, it will be guaranteed the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and a matchup with the Houston Rockets.
“Any chance you can, you have to improve and move up. That’s always a good thing and that’s where we’re sitting right now,” noted veteran forward Carmelo Anthony, who is ecstatic to be back in the postseason. “But most important is just closing the season out on a strong note, finishing the season out, taking some momentum into the postseason.”
Just like the season has gone for the Thunder this year, there is bound to be some adversity and challenges in this game with the Grizzlies tonight. As the team has shown the past two contests against the Rockets and Miami Heat, there’s an internal fortitude that has been developed this season that Head Coach Billy Donovan’s squad is relying upon here down the stretch. When the going gets tough, the Thunder has learned how to band together and respond.
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan - 4/10
“That’s what to me is the greatest form of competition,” Donovan said. “It’s not going to be smooth sailing.”
On paper, the 22-59 Grizzlies might not appear to be a formidable foe. Think again. Just a couple weeks ago this young, scrappy squad beat the Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves, sinking two playoff teams that desperately needed wins to secure positioning. Young players like Dillon Brooks, Kobi Simmons, Ivan Rabb and Deyonta Davis are all trying to prove themselves in the NBA, and won’t take an opportunity like the one before them in Game 82 lightly at all.
“Anytime you play a team with guys who are trying to stay in the league it’s going to be tough,” said Thunder guard Corey Brewer, who has experience on a rebuilding squad like Memphis. “They are going to come out and play their butts off. You can’t overlook a team like that. So we have to come out and play our best basketball and get a win.”
Thunder Talk: Corey Brewer - 4/10
Although the Grizzlies will be shorthanded without Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons, Tyreke Evans, Mike Conley and a few others, Donovan and his coaches have noted that the team’s agenda on the floor remains the same. The Thunder will have to match the toughness, the energy and effort Memphis presents for all four quarters, in order to earn a home win and jump up in the standings.
“Their system, style and how they want to play is pretty consistent,” Donovan reported. “They’re really good defensively with their hands. They’ve always been a physical, disruptive defensive team.”
Donovan also noted Memphis’ proclivity for offensive rebounding before adding, “Regardless of who’s playing, that’s kind of the things they’ve done at a high level we’re going to have to guard against.”
- The Thunder’s job gets slightly tougher with the absence of Alex Abrines, who sustained a concussion against the Heat and is very likely out for tonight’s tilt with the Grizzlies. He’s going through the NBA’s regulated concussion protocol so it remains to be seen precisely when Abrines will be back in action. Donovan and his staff have prepared the team to withstand injuries by keeping players like Terrance Ferguson and Josh Huestis involved in game action throughout the season.
- “They all understand there’s a level of sacrifice you have to give up for the team,” Donovan began, “but the biggest thing is you want to keep yourself ready to play. I think as a coaching staff we have a job and a responsibility to keep these guys engaged.”
- All season long, Abrines included, the Thunder as a whole has battled streaky shooting. Even perennial All-Stars like Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Anthony have dealt with challenging streaks suddenly matched with scorching marksmanship. The best example the past few weeks has been Anthony, who went 0-for-9 from three in a pair of games in mid-March, then followed that up with a stretch of 12 makes from behind the arc in 21 attempts. The key to getting back on track for players is diligently working on their craft, but also remaining mentally tough enough to shake off the misses.
- “Shooters shoot,” Anthony quipped. “Whether you miss, whether you make it, For me, it’s about taking the shot, taking the right shots, teammates finding me, and that’s it. And believing in your shot. Even when you’re missing, continuing to believe in your shot and your game and never get discouraged. That’s something I won’t allow myself to do.”
- “These guys have probably learned how to fight through some of that individually with their shooting and we’ve had to learn how to collectively fight through some things as a team,” Donovan added.
Thunder Talk: Carmelo Anthony - 4/10