Western Conference Semifinals preview: Thunder vs. Grizzlies
After Oklahoma City advanced in the playoffs for the first time since relocating and Memphis won its first postseason series in franchise history, the two young teams will start a duel that could define the West for the next few seasons. But in their first-round victories, both showed some flaws that suggest they have some maturing to do. Against Denver, the Thunder did as expected, utilizing their stars to overwhelm a less-talented roster. Russell Westbrook, though, seemed caught in a struggle between distributing and scoring, an internal battle that led to a sideline tiff with teammate Kevin Durant. For their part, the Grizzlies did the unexpected, upending the top-seeded Spurs with a mix of athleticism and a big front line, albeit with a number of late-game defensive collapses that no team can afford deeper in the playoffs.
After their first-round victory, the Thunder didn't sound exactly thrilled at the prospect of playing Memphis. Who can blame them after losing three of four to Memphis in the regular season and watching it dismantle a 61-win Spurs team? But with Perkins in tow now, Oklahoma City should have enough to compel Memphis to rely more on its perimeter options; that would force the Grizzlies to step away from an identity that enabled them to become the fourth eighth seed in NBA history to beat a No. 1. Plus, the Thunder have the athleticism to keep Allen and Mike Conley in front of them, as well as the scoring options to hammer Memphis should its defense prove leaky.