Saturday May 14th, 2011

It has been 14 years since the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise has played in a Game 7. The Grizzlies? They never have. Here are five things to watch in 2011's first ultimate elimination game:

Can the Grizzlies keep their energy level? On Wednesday, Memphis looked exhausted playing just 48 hours after a marathon triple-overtime loss in Game 4. On Friday, the Grizzlies summoned the strength to rally from a 10-point second-half deficit and put away one of the youngest, most athletic teams in the league. Can they do it again? Zach Randolph (30 points) was a beast in Game 6 but Marc Gasol (eight points, nine rebounds) looked a little sluggish and at times appeared a step slow recovering on pick-and-rolls and switches. Clearly, Memphis' strength is, well, its strength, and the Grizzlies will need both of their Bruise Brothers playing at a high level.

Oklahoma City's adjustments. Memphis' surprising decision to insert O.J. Mayo into the starting lineup rattled the Thunder, who mysteriously abandoned the decision to double-team Randolph and watched him torch their single coverage. Oklahoma City knows it can't leave Mayo, but it can leave Tony Allen, a 17.4 percent three-point shooter in the regular season. Look for Allen's man to play a roving role on defense and try to confuse Randolph with open looks.

Which Russell Westbrook will show up? This has been an ongoing question, hasn't it? Westbrook was Oklahoma City's leading scorer (27 points) in Game 6, but he committed five of the team's 16 turnovers and was a team-worst minus-19 for the game. It's the same old story with Westbrook: His body moves faster than his mind. When under control, Westbrook has huge advantages over any defender Memphis can send at him. But when he gets reckless, stops looking for teammates and forces up shots up in traffic, it's like he is wearing a different jersey. Thunder coach Scott Brooks has long been reluctant to rein Westbrook in. But if Westbrook is playing erratically, the more sure-handed Eric Maynor could see more playing time.

Defending Durant. No question, Durant's early foul trouble in Game 6 took him out of his game. But credit Memphis' defensive duo of Allen and Shane Battier for bumping Durant off his spots and contesting everything he tossed at the rim. Durant is considered the next in the line of great superstars and all the greats have had big moments. Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant -- these are transcendent stars who have risen to the occasion no matter who was put in front of them. Sunday is easily the biggest moment of Durant's career and a chance for him to establish a big-game winning legacy.

Battle of the benches. Oklahoma City won the bench war (27-20) in Game 6, primarily because Memphis' top sub (Mayo) started and played 39 minutes. However the heavy minutes both team's starters have logged in this series means a breakout performance by a sub could have a significant impact. For the Thunder, that means James Harden, who had a solid 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. For the Grizzlies, that means Sam Young, who must find a way to shake off the demotion (he had seven points and failed to pick up a rebound or an assist), and Darrell Arthur (eight points, one rebound) need to step up.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 96, Memphis 90

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