Not long ago, one of the more interesting rivalries in the NBA involved the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder.
From 2011-14, the teams squared off in the playoffs three times, with Oklahoma City winning two of three. Even after that, the teams have played plenty of tight regular-season games.
But there’s no more Mike Conley, Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph on the Grizzlies. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are long gone from the Thunder.
Wednesday night, the teams meet in Oklahoma City with reworked lineups that are still trying to figure out how to win.
It’s been a bit rougher for the Grizzlies overall but lately, Memphis appears to be turning a corner.
The Grizzlies come into the game having won four of five, with their only loss coming to the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks.
Monday’s win over the Miami Heat was especially encouraging.
The Grizzlies had lost all nine games when guard Dillon Brooks scored fewer than 10 points. They were 7-0 when he topped the 20-point mark.
But against the Heat, Brooks had just nine points while Memphis’ other players came through in a 118-111 win.
“We’re figuring it out,” Brooks said. “We’re figuring out each other’s tendencies. Everybody knows what each other wants. Then we make it happen.
“We have guys like Ja (Morant) and Jaren (Jackson Jr.) that are growing into their roles and flourishing in their roles. Those guys are hard to cover and they’re going to be great NBA players.”
Morant, the rookie point guard, has been a big part of the Grizzlies’ recent success.
Over his last four games — Morant missed the loss to Milwaukee — he has averaged 19.3 points and 7.0 assists.
Oklahoma City is coming off the biggest home comeback in team history. The Thunder trailed the Bulls by 26 before coming back to win 109-106 on Monday night.
While Memphis is learning to win when Brooks doesn’t score in bunches, Oklahoma City’s adjustment is figuring out how to be successful against different defensive looks.
Chicago frustrated the Thunder early, forcing turnovers in bunches and helping the Bulls build the huge lead.
But then Oklahoma City adjusted, running the offense through interior players like Steven Adams. That helped produce five fourth-quarter 3-pointers by Chris Paul as the Thunder finished off the comeback.
“We just had to figure it out,” Paul said. “That was the first team that defended us like that on the ball screen.”
The Thunder have won four of their last six games. The win over Chicago opened a five-game homestand. That stretch includes two games against the Grizzlies. The teams also meet on Dec. 26 in Oklahoma City.
It’s been awhile since Memphis has won in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder have won eight consecutive home games in the series, with the Grizzlies’ last win coming in November 2012.
After the second meeting in Oklahoma City, the teams won’t meet again until March 17 in Memphis.
–Field Level Media