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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 18, 2014 at 7:00 AM

If the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to win the 2014 NBA Championship trophy, it looks like they’ll have to win consecutive series against the physically demanding Memphis Grizzlies, the loaded Los Angeles Clippers, the veteran defending conference champion San Antonio Spurs, and then probably the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

Nobody in the West has it “easy” because there are eight good teams in the brackets. But, nobody has it tougher than Oklahoma City. They didn’t draw the soft defense of Dallas…or the injured Golden State Warriors, or the less-than-playoff savvy Houston Rockets or Portland Trailblazers. They have to open with a Memphis Grizzlies team that’s built for the playoff grind.

That series starts Saturday Night, the last of four games on the opening day of playoff action. Let’s run the numbers to see how things might play out…

 

Offensive Efficiency

Memphis: 103.3 per 100 possessions (ranked #16 in the NBA)

Oklahoma City: 108.1 per 100 possessions (ranked #7 in the NBA)

Memphis helped their offense significantly by erasing Rudy Gay from the equation this year. They’re still far from elite. But, they have more ball movement, and fewer possessions ending with forced up bad shots. Oklahoma City is great on offense of course. Russell Westbrook missed extended time with an injury, or they’d rank even better. He can be a problem in the playoffs…but he generally improves efficiency against regular season opponents because he attacks the basket. Edge to OKC, but not as big as in the past.  

 

Defensive Efficiency

Memphis: 102.1 per 100 possessions (ranked #7 in the NBA)

Oklahoma City: 101.0 per 100 possessions (ranked #5 in the NBA)

Very important to note that OKC has a better defense on a per-possession basis than Memphis. The Grizzlies play very slow…which tricks the media into thinking they’re playing great defense. Memphis is certainly good. OKC is a bit better once you adjust for tempo. That’s why this is a #2 vs. #7 game in the seedings. Oklahoma City is a true championship contender. Memphis is just pretty good.

 

Pace Ranking

Memphis: #30

Oklahoma City: #9

This is what we mean about pace factor. Memphis is the slowest team in the NBA. Oklahoma City is top 10, and would be faster with a full season of Westbrook. There is a chance that the differential plays into the hands of the underdog. Playoff games generally slow down…which is much more in the Memphis comfort zone than in the Thunder’s. That’s a big reason why Memphis is such a dangerous playoff team. They’re built for the playoffs.

 

Against the Spread

Memphis: 36-43-3

Oklahoma City: 43-37-2

Memphis struggled out of the gate, and was consistently overrated in the early weeks of the regular season. They played much better down the stretch, and have recently been a better value team than the full season record suggests. Oklahoma City made money for backers even though everyone knew they were great. A tribute to the consistency of Kevin Durant….but probably also a reflection on how head coach Scott Brooks doesn’t give his best players enough rest.

 

Las Vegas Line:

Oklahoma City by 7, total of 192.5

Oklahoma City is a heavy favorite in the series because they’ll be favored in this range in all four home games if it goes the distance. The matchups in Memphis will be hear pick-em. Handicapping this game, and the full series will largely revolve around whether or not Memphis can slow down OKC to make them play a wrestling match. Memphis wants to play in the 180’s (or less), while Oklahoma City wants to play in the 200’s. Handicapping the side is about the same as handicapping the total.

JIM HURLEY is planning a huge opening day PARLAY that could involve this nightcap. Other Saturday matchups are Brooklyn at Toronto, Golden State at the LA Clippers, and Atlanta at Indiana. You can purchase the best from that slate any time Saturday right here at the website with your credit card. Remember to take care of business EARLY because first tip is at 12:30 p.m. ET.

If you have any questions about our full playoff program, or combination packages with Major League Baseball, call us in the office during normal business hours Friday or Saturday morning at 1-888-777-4155.

We’ll be back with you tomorrow to preview Portland at Houston in the late game Sunday. Our Sunday reports will focus on ESPN’s prime time baseball this season. So, it’s Orioles/Red Sox on Sunday. We go back to basketball Monday…with this preview schedule for the week:

 

Monday: Golden State at LA Clippers Game Two

Tuesday: Washington at Chicago Game Two

Wednesday: Dallas at San Antonio Game Two

Thursday: Indiana at Atlanta Game Three

Friday: Toronto at Brooklyn Game Three

Saturday: Miami at Charlotte Game Three

 

That will complete the full cycle, allowing us to go in-depth for all eight opening round series before each has reached its third game. Will go with the top priority matchup from that point forward.

Be sure you’re with us every day through the playoffs for big game previews…and link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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