The good news for the Oklahoma City Thunder (32-26) is that Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony finally returned last night after missing the past two games. The bad news is they came up against the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who had too much for them and came away with a 120-112 win. The Thunder have now lost six of their last eight games.
Luckily, their two stars didn’t look all too rusty following their brief layoff. Melo had 24 points and seven boards against the Cavs, while Westbrook added 21 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds. Paul George was a bit off with his shot but still had 25 points, while Steven Adams was dominant with 22 points and 17 boards.
The Thunder will have their sights set on a much-needed win when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies (18-37), who have been off ever since losing to the Thunder, 110-92, on Sunday. The loss was the Grizzlies’ sixth in a row and eighth in their last nine games.
The Grizzlies couldn’t contain the short-handed Thunder as they allowed the likes of Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson to go off for unusually strong scoring games. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies offense couldn’t get much going even with the return of Tyreke Evans to the lineup. Evans was far from his best after taking the last couple weeks off as he finished with just 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting in 26 minutes.
Three keys to the game
Thunder’s Big 3 – The OKC stars are reunited and it feels so good. George was handily able to take care of the Grizzlies even without his two co-stars, so you could only imagine what the Thunder are capable of doing to Memphis with their full complement of weapons. While there’s still some doubt as to whether the Thunder will opt to risk Melo on the second night of a back-to-back, Westbrook is a freak and should be ready to go.
Tyreke Evans – It will be interesting to see if Evans’ return was just a bit of rust following his layoff after speculation that he might get traded, or if it’ll be the start of a pattern until the end of the season because he’s stuck in Memphis. If it’s the latter, then that’s obviously bad for Memphis’ prospects of winning an actual game anytime soon. However, it’s good for the Grizzlies and their efforts to improve their pick for the draft.
Alex Abrines – Alex Abrines has had a mostly underwhelming sophomore season with the Thunder. But he’s gotten the opportunity to play against the Grizzlies due to timely absences, and he’s taken advantage of those chances. In two meetings against the Grizz, he’s averaging 18 points and five rebounds with five 3-pointers per game. It’ll obviously be tougher for Abrines to put up those types of numbers if OKC’s Thunder’s Big 3 is intact, but if he can provide decent production as a fifth option, the Thunder would be that much tougher to stop.
Matchup to watch
Russell Westbrook vs Andrew Harrison – Harrison had been playing well for the Grizzlies in recent games as he stepped up to fill the void left by Evans. However, he was relegated to just 11 minutes last time out against the Thunder, the fewest minutes he’s played in a while. The Grizzlies could use some of the production he’s shown he can be capable of. But his matchup with Westbrook will obviously be a tough one and could once again render Harrison unplayable.
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Alex Abrines | SF – Paul George | PF – Carmelo Anthony | C – Steven Adams
Grizzlies projected starting lineup
PG – Andrew Harrison | SG – Tyreke Evans | SF – Dillon Brooks | PF – JaMychal Green | C – Marc Gasol
The Grizzlies have been burned pretty badly by opposing point guards over the last few games, with Raymond Felton, Ricky Rubio, and Dennis Schroder slicing them up. Westbrook had a triple-double in his first meeting against them and will be favored to do so again given how well he’s played. The Thunder wings, Abrines and George, have also had a lot of joy against the Grizzlies and will like their chances of doing so again.
As for the Grizzlies, Evans remains a bit of a question mark at this point. Marc Gasol has also been unspectacular fantasy-wise in his first two meetings against OKC, going for 20 points, six rebounds, and four assists.
This just has to be an Oklahoma City win. If the Grizzlies couldn't top the Thunder without both Westbrook and Anthony, it's hard to see how they do so with both of them back. It's hard to see any result other than a big Thunder win.
Westbrook leads the Thunder to a much-needed 112-96 road win over the Grizzlies.
This game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Southeast – Memphis and Fox Sports Oklahoma. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.