The Oklahoma City Thunder look to halt a seven-game slide when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.
Five of the setbacks have been by seven or fewer points, so at the least the Thunder haven’t been regular blowout victims.
However, the past two losses — on Monday and Wednesday — were to the Houston Rockets, the team at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
“After every night, we learn and we try to get better. We’ll do so tonight,” Oklahoma City standout guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said after his team’s 114-110 home loss on Wednesday. “Obviously we didn’t do enough to win the game, and we’ll focus on those for (Thursday) night’s game.”
Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t one of the problem areas for Oklahoma City. He scored a season-high 39 points — three shy of his career best — in the latest loss and has tallied at least 20 points on 10 occasions this season.
Gilgeous-Alexander spent plenty of time at the line against the Rockets, setting career highs with 14 makes and 16 attempts.
“We have one of the most dynamic playmakers in Shai, and he draws so much attention,” backup guard Ty Jerome said. “When he’s going like that, he draws a lot of attention so we can play off him, attack closeouts and make shots.”
The Thunder appeared to have a solid chance to end their skid when they took an eight-point advantage into the fourth quarter Wednesday. However, the Rockets outscored Oklahoma City by a whopping 41-29 in the final stanza after failing to reach 30 points in any of the first three quarters.
Now the Thunder look to surprise the Grizzlies, who have won five of the past seven meetings in the series.
Memphis has won its past two games despite being without star point guard Ja Morant, who is expected to miss at least two to three more weeks due to a knee injury.
The Grizzlies rolled to a 128-101 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday in their first game without Morant, who leads the team in scoring (24.1 points per game) and assists (6.8 per game). They followed up with a 98-91 road win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.
“It’s not about doing more, it’s about playing better, even with Ja out of the lineup,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said after the win in Toronto.
Jaren Jackson Jr. had a big game against the Raptors with 25 points, six rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots. Memphis matched its season best of 11 rejections.
Desmond Bane knocked down five 3-pointers to tie a career high and scored 23 points. The second-year pro has recorded 20 or more points in four of the past six games.
“He really can do it all out there,” Jackson said of Bane. “There’s really no limit to what he can do.”
Tyus Jones started the past two games in place of Morant and did the job from a playmaking standpoint, registering 14 assists against just two turnovers. His offense is a problem, though, as Jones averaged five points while making just 4 of 18 shots.
Memphis reserve forward Kyle Anderson is questionable for Thursday due to back soreness. He is averaging just 4.3 points on 5-of-19 shooting over the past three games.
Thunder guard Josh Giddey (non-COVID illness) will miss his second straight game. Fellow rookie guard Tre Mann started in his place and put up 11 points on Wednesday after scoring a season-best 17 two nights earlier against the Rockets.
–Field Level Media