Thunder With A big Opportunity Tonight
By Randy Renner
The Thunder have a chance tonight to head into the All-Star break on a big high or a disappointing low.
The Thunder are on a pretty good roll right now, averaging 114.8 points on 50.6 percent shooting over their last five games and a win tonight will push them to three games over .500 for the first time this season and bring them to within just a half game of eighth place Phoenix in the Western Conference standings.
The big, bad Memphis Grizzlies stand in their way though and the Grizzlies are among the hottest teams in the NBA having won 14 of their last 16.
The Thunder (27-25), who started the season 3-12, haven't been three games over the break-even mark since finishing last season at 59-23. They beat Denver 124-114 on Monday for a fourth win in five games and have the league's eighth-best record since November 23rd at 24-14.
"We have to keep our heads up, keep working, keep getting better and know that it's a marathon," forward Kevin Durant told the team's official website.
The Thunder were 22-20 on January 21st then lost four of five, ending that stretch with an 85-74 defeat in Memphis on January 31st.
Durant scored 40 points, his second-most this season, Monday while matching a career high with seven 3-pointers. Russell Westbrook is averaging 34.5 points in his last four games and was named Western Conference Player of the Week for his efforts last week.
Rookie Mitch McGary contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds at Denver for his second straight double-double in only his fourth game of an injury-plagued rookie season.
Durant was held to 14 points in last month's loss at Memphis and Westbrook had 15. Both players missed 11 of 16 shots as Oklahoma City recorded its second-lowest point total of the season while shooting 34.6 percent.
The Grizzlies (39-13), second in the West, are on pace for their first 60-win season in franchise history and can reach 40 at the break with a victory Wednesday. Their success stems from a defense that allows a league-low 95.6 points and is giving up 86.5 over a 10-1 stretch.
The Grizzlies then took a 95-86 win over visiting Brooklyn and former coach Lionel Hollins on Tuesday.
"We've got a chance to get 40 wins. It would be big for us and our momentum," swingman Tony Allen, the former OSU star said. "We want to keep that going obviously and just finish the break off right. We know we're going into a hostile environment. That team is thirsty for wins right now."
Allen has been a pest over the years defending Durant and tonight Thunder fans will get to see old friend Jeff Green. The Thunder traded Green to Boston in 2011 for Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics sent Green to Memphis in a trade last month.
Memphis outrebounded Oklahoma City 54-47 in the latest meeting with Zach Randolph grabbing 18 (10 on the offensive glass). The Grizzlies could have an advantage on the boards again with Thunder starting center Steven Adams expected to miss at least three weeks after undergoing hand surgery Monday to repair a broken bone.
Oklahoma City has won eight of nine on its own floor, but the Thunder have dropped three of the last four visits from the Grizz including playoff games.
It should be a dandy, we'll have updates from shootaround this morning and from the coaches' pre-games talks later in the day here on the website and you can check out our Twitter feed page for updates through the day and during the game tonight.