Thunder-Grizzlies Preview

The Associated Press

In their quest for first place in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder must do a better job of defending the paint and snap out of a perimeter shooting funk.

Especially considering they'll be on the road Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, who have won eight straight at home and continue to score inside effectively.

Even with Tuesday's 114-104 home loss to Denver, the Thunder (50-18) have still won 11 of 14. But with 1 1/2 games separating them from West-leading San Antonio, each game is crucial.

Oklahoma City had no answers for the Nuggets inside, giving up a season-worst 72 points in the paint while mustering 50 of their own.

Memphis presents another big challenge as it is seventh in the league in points in the paint per game at 43.2.

The Thunder are third in the league in 3-point shooting at 38.3 percent, but their hitting just 27.8 percent of their shots from distance over the last six games. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have hit a combined 10 of their 43 3-point attempts over that stretch.

Catching fire could prove difficult against the Grizzlies, who have held opponents to 26.5 percent 3-point shooting over their last five home games.

"We missed shots that we normally make and dunks and 3-pointers weren't going," Kevin Durant told the league's official website after the Thunder went 4 for 25 from deep against Denver. "We fought and we've got to stay positive because we've got a game tomorrow. We just have to continue to stay positive and keep pushing."

Oklahoma City has been the league's best team after losses since the start of last season, going 29-6 in games immediately following defeats.

Memphis (45-21) had ended a season-high four-game road trip with two straight losses before bouncing back with a 92-77 home win over Minnesota on Monday.

Percentage points ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for third place in the West, the Grizzlies not only have their sights set on obtaining home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but they're also well within striking distance of the franchise record for wins. With 16 games left, Memphis is five victories short of the 50 it earned in 2003-04.

"We're trying to build something special," coach Lionel Hollins told the league's official website. "I don't know if we can do it or not, but we've got to work toward it. And that's to contend for a championship."

Mike Conley had a rough shooting stretch during the road trip, going 19 of 54 (35.2 percent) and had seven turnovers in a loss at Denver on Friday, but he had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting with six assists against the Timberwolves.

Jerryd Bayless is riding a string of strong performances, averaging 16.3 points over his last three games on 7-of-14 shooting from long distance. He's scoring 7.6 points per game this season as a 35.4 percent 3-point shooter.

The teams split two meetings in Oklahoma City earlier this season with Durant totaling 61 points and 17 rebounds. He's averaging 30.0 points while shooting 50.8 percent from the field over his last 16 games against the Grizzlies.

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