Grizzlies-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 03, 2012
The Oklahoma City Thunder own the best record in the NBA thanks in large part to the tremendous offensive play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder figure to become all the more dominant if Serge Ibaka can build on his latest shot-blocking display defensively. In a quick stop at home before hitting the road again, Oklahoma City tries for a sixth consecutive victory on its own court Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. With Durant and Westbrook both ranking top 10 in the league with averages of 26.6 and 21.9 points, respectively, the Thunder (17-4) have climbed their way to the top of the league standings. While the dynamic duo continued its offensive prowess behind Westbrook's 33 points and 23 from Durant, it was Ibaka who shined brightest as Oklahoma City concluded a three-game trek with Wednesday's 95-86 win at Dallas. The 6-foot-10 Congo native posted his second double-double in three games with 11 rebounds and a team-record 10 blocks. "He was protecting the paint, getting blocked shots, he was contesting shots and making guys miss," said Durant, who was named an All-Star starter Thursday. "That's what we need from him every night." Ibaka, who has swatted away at least one shot in all but one game this season, is averaging 3.5 blocks over his last nine contests. With Ibaka leading the way, the Thunder limited Dallas to just 35.7 percent from the field and outrebounded the Mavericks 55-44. "It was just learning from our mistakes the last two or three years of playing together," Westbrook told the team's official website. "We're doing a better job of closing out games. You saw that (Wednesday). With two road wins over the Grizzlies (12-10) under its belt, Oklahoma City has to like its chances of continuing its success versus Memphis with the series shifting back home - where it's been nearly unbeatable. With their only home loss coming 103-93 to Portland on Jan. 3, the Thunder have shot an NBA-best 50.9 percent from the floor at home in going 8-1. Following this contest, Oklahoma City hits the road for a five-game road swing - tied for its longest of the season. Memphis, meanwhile, kicked off a three-game trip of its own in impressive fashion Thursday, prevailing 96-77 to snap a five-game road losing streak at Atlanta. "We haven't won here in so long," said Rudy Gay, whose three steals gave him a franchise-record 526. "We know we can beat teams, but the reality is there's still a long way to go." Gay also came up big offensively, posting a game-high 21 points. The Grizzlies may want to think about continuing to call Gay's number early and often, as they are 9-1 when he scores at least 20 points but 3-9 when he's held to 19 or fewer. Gay has struggled from the field versus Oklahoma City this season. After scoring 19 points on 9-of-24 shooting in a 98-95 loss Dec. 28, he was limited to 16 while making just 7 of 21 shots in a 100-95 defeat Jan. 10. Memphis is averaging 86.7 points and shooting 42.5 percent from the floor on the road - significantly lower than their marks of 102.1 points per game and 47.2 percent at home. The Grizzlies have yet to score 100 points in a road game. The Thunder have won 23 of 25 at home - including 10 straight - when holding opponents under 100 points.
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