(SportsNetwork.com) - The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies will renew their postseason rivalry Saturday night when the two squads meet at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
For the third time in four seasons, the Thunder will face the Grizzlies in the playoffs. OKC dispatched the Grizz in the second round following the 2010-11 season, but Memphis evened the score one year ago.
The Grizzlies eliminated the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals last season. Granted, Oklahoma City was without the services of All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, but this season's first-round battle will be the rubber match.
"It's going to be a tough but fun series," OKC star Kevin Durant said. "We have a lot of history with these guys. We're looking forward to getting the opportunity to play for a championship."
Durant will be the league's MVP and carried a heavy load. Westbrook missed time with a knee injury and veteran starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins both were shelved late in the season with various ailments.
"Guys had to step up and I think we did a good job of fighting through it all," Durant said. "That shows the type of organization, the type of coaching staff and team that we have. It's been a fun season and up and down like any other season."
Memphis overcame a hideous start to make the postseason once again. Injuries hit the Grizzlies hard as well. They were without All-Defensive guard Tony Allen for a long stretch, but the main setback occurred when they lost All- Star center Marc Gasol with a left knee problem.
Once the reigning Defensive Player of the Year returned to the lineup, the Grizzlies clicked. The Grizzlies went 33-13 in games Gasol played after the injury.
The heart of the Grizz rests in their big-man combo of Gasol, who averaged 14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 1.88 blocks, and Zach Randolph, who continued to be a double-double machine. He posted marks of 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds while tying for the fourth-most double-doubles in the league.
However, the real star that emerged this season was point guard Mike Conley. He averaged 17.2 ppg and 6.0 apg all the while playing stellar defense, the hallmark of the Grizzlies.
It all finally came together for Memphis over the final two games of the season. The Grizzlies' road victory over the Phoenix Suns in the penultimate game earned them a playoff berth. Their win over the Dallas Mavericks in the finale got them the seventh seed.
"Getting 50 wins is something you want on your resume as a player, and people remember those. Those are special seasons. It's a standard, a golden standard I think," Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger said.
It will be a classic offense versus defense matchup. The Thunder were the fifth-best offensive team this season, while the Grizzlies ranked third in opponents' scoring.
Flip the script and the advantage swings to Oklahoma City. The Thunder finished a respectable 12th in defensive scoring and an impressive third in opponents' field-goal percentage. Memphis ranked 27th in scoring
The Thunder won three of four regular-season meetings against the Grizzlies. OKC is 7-4 all-time versus Memphis in regular-season games in Oklahoma City.