The red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder welcome Memphis to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday night while seeking a fifth consecutive win and second over the Grizzlies in eight days.
The Thunder have been on a roll since Nov. 29, winning 9 of 12, including the current four-game winning streak. The most recent win, a 118-112 defeat of the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, moved Oklahoma City above .500 on the season.
Rallying to knock off one of the leading Western Conference contenders was big on several fronts for Oklahoma City. Los Angeles came into town with Paul George, who represented the Thunder in the past two All-Star Games.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whom the Thunder acquired in the offseason deal for George, matched the career-high 32 points he scored just one game prior in a win over Phoenix.
“I think I shot a worse percentage tonight, so it doesn’t feel as good,” Gilgeous-Alexander joked with The Oklahoman following the win.
Gilgeous-Alexander, whom teammate Chris Paul told reporters was “just unstoppable” against the Clippers, scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Oklahoma City’s 126-122 defeat of visiting Memphis on Dec. 18.
Dennis Schroder hit for 31 points in the Thunder’s previous meeting with the Grizzlies, part of his Western Conference Player of the Week-winning performance over Oklahoma City’s current stretch.
Schroder averaged 25.3 points, six assists and 5.3 rebounds in four games last week, providing a spark off the bench.
“Everybody here knows I can start,” Schroder told The Athletic. “But right now, the situation is the best situation. I’m a team player, but I’m coming off the bench to try to do as much as I can to help the team.”
Memphis comes into Oklahoma City having lost three of its past four, including a 145-115 decision on Monday against San Antonio. The Grizzlies gave up 40 and 26 points to Spurs stars LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, respectively, and San Antonio’s 145 points were the most Memphis has yielded on the season.
“There were some things we could have done (defensive) execution-wise,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said, “but they had a heck of a shooting night.”
San Antonio shot 67.4 percent from the floor, a stark contrast to the 43 percent to which Memphis held Sacramento in the Grizzlies’ 119-115 win on Saturday.
One common thread between the two vastly different games, however, was second-year Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. setting the scoring pace. Jackson hit for 18 points against the Kings, 22 against the Spurs.
“I feel good shooting it. The rhythm’s there,” Jackson told reporters following the San Antonio game. He hit 6 of 9 from behind the 3-point arc against the Spurs, and he is 12 of 25 from long range over the Grizzlies’ past three games.
For the season, Jackson is now hitting a team-leading 41.1 percent from 3-point distance. He went just 1 of 4 from deep in a nine-point effort when Memphis and Oklahoma City met on Dec. 18, however.
The Grizzlies played without Grayson Allen in that one. He since returned to score nine, 13 and eight off the bench in Memphis’ past three.
Oklahoma City continues to play without Hamidou Diallo, who sustained a right elbow injury in late November. His original prognosis for return was four to six weeks. Danilo Gallinari missed the Thunder’s win over the Clippers with a left ankle injury.
Gallinari’s status for Thursday was uncertain.
–Field Level Media