The Memphis Grizzlies (18-36) remain in freefall. They dropped their fifth game in a row with a 92-88 defeat to the Utah Jazz which was made a bit closer by two late 3-pointers. Andrew Harrison had a strong performance with a team-high 23 points, while Marc Gasol added 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists. The Grizzlies were unable to trade Tyreke Evans prior to the trade deadline. The veteran forward has played just once in the Grizzlies’ last eight games - which was coincidentally the last game they won - but is now expected to return to the lineup.
Evans and the Grizzlies will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (31-25), who have now lost five of their last six games as they were blown out 106-81 by the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the Thunder were missing two-thirds of their Big Three with Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook both out due to ankle injuries. Paul George did all he could as he dropped 29 points and nine rebounds, but Steven Adams was the next-highest scorer with 13 points as the Thunder shot an abysmal 35.6 percent from the floor.
Three keys to the game
Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony’s availability - Westbrook and Anthony missed practice on Saturday and remain a game-time decision to play against the Grizzlies. As the Lakers game showed, the Thunder are just a completely different team with Westbrook and Melo gone, so they need both to return and make their offense run.
Tyreke Evans’ return and mindset - Evans will likely be back in the lineup against the Thunder, but it remains to be seen what his mindset will be after he was not traded as expected. If he returns to the form he was in before he was shut down, the Grizzlies have a legitimate shot at bringing down the Thunder, even with Westbrook. But if he’s a bit sluggish and not quite as invested, it’ll be a problem.
Thunder supporting cast - The Thunder just got nothing from their supporting cast against the Lakers. Patrick Patterson was 0-of-6. Alex Abrines was 3-of-10. Raymond Felton was 3-of-8. Terrance Ferguson was 0-of-5. That’s unsurprising given how they’ve played all season, but still unacceptable if they want to win, especially without one or two of their top stars.
Matchup to watch
Marc Gasol vs Steven Adams - Adams is the Thunder player who will need to step up and take on a bigger role offensively if Westbrook or Melo are once again out. The Kiwi was a disappointing 4-of-11 against the Lakers, which is not good enough. He’ll need something closer to the 21-point performance he came up with in his first meeting with Memphis. Apart from that, he’ll also need to ensure Marc Gasol doesn’t go off for one of his big games.
Grizzlies projected starting lineup
PG - Andrew Harrison | SG - Tyreke Evans | SF - Dillon Brooks | PF - JaMychal Green | C - Marc Gasol
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Josh Huestis | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony | C - Steven Adams
It’s still a big unknown as to what Evans will look like upon returning to the Grizzlies lineup. But whatever happens, he will likely regain the license to take up a significant usage of the team’s possessions. He had been averaging 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.2 steals in January prior to getting shut down, and dropped 29 points with 13 rebounds in his first meeting against the Thunder.
As for the Thunder, George will once again have every opportunity to put up big numbers if Westbrook and Anthony remain sidelined. PG-13 is averaging 30 points and six rebounds over his last five games.
It all boils down to whether Westbrook will play. If he does, the Thunder should have a good chance of rolling the Grizzlies. But if not, all bets are off. But the thought of Westbrook sitting out back-to-back games seems tough to comprehend. He likely plays, so the Thunder should be a strong bet to win.
The Thunder send the Grizzlies to yet another defeat, winning 109-101.
This game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Oklahoma and Fox Sports Southeast. Tip-off is at 7:00 pm Eastern.