OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are ready to rumble again.
Two years after slugging it out in a Western Conference semifinal series that went the full seven games, the two rough-and-tumble rivals will square off again starting in Game 1 in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Thunder prevailed against Memphis in the last playoff series, which featured a triple-overtime game and another with just one overtime. There's been no love lost since then between the teams, who combined for nine technical fouls in three meetings this season.
Grizzlies star Zach Randolph and Oklahoma City enforcer Kendrick Perkins were ejected in one of the games, with a confrontation that continued off the court and into the hallway outside both teams' locker rooms.
With even more on the line, the tension should only increase.
"That's their DNA. That's what they do, and that's what we do. Guys are going to go out there pushing and shoving, and it's going to be a really physical series," Thunder star Kevin Durant said. "That's what both teams do. That's what we hang our hats on."
And neither team is the type to back down.
Just look at the Randolph-Perkins showdown, back in a November game lacking the high stakes of the playoffs.
The Grizzlies had seemingly salted the game away with back-to-back buckets inside by Randolph and Marc Gasol to go up by 12 when, between a pair of Russell Westbrook free-throw attempts with 2:05 left, Perkins and Randolph started chirping at each other.
They both were ejected, kept screaming at each other and then took off toward opposite tunnels so they could continue the fracas elsewhere. Randolph confronted Perkins outside the Thunder locker room, later getting fined $25,000 by the NBA, and explained in his postgame interview: "There's a lot of bluffing going on on the court, that's all. And I don't bluff."
Memphis, known as the Bluff City for its river banks and not false claims, turned Randolph's comments into a team slogan — "We Don't Bluff" — to put on billboards and rally towels.
But Randolph, who also got ejected from his last game after going toe-to-toe with the Clippers' Blake Griffin repeatedly in that series, said this next round can't be all about bluster.
"I got to keep my cool because that plays into their hands. So I'm going to go out just like they were trying to get me off my square during the (Clippers) series," said Randolph, who averaged 24.8 points in Memphis' four straight wins. "I just kept my head and just play."
The Thunder wouldn't make Perkins available to reporters after their practice Saturday.
"We've got to be the team that hits first in this series," Durant said. "It's going to be a tough and fun series."
The Grizzlies won two of the three regular-season meetings, with their only loss coming in Oklahoma City just after top scorer Rudy Gay had been traded away — and before Tayshaun Prince and other newly acquired players had arrived.
The only meeting since then was won by Memphis on its home floor by a single point in overtime.
Of course, much has changed even since then. Westbrook, Oklahoma City's All-Star point guard, is out for the rest of the playoffs after knee surgery. The Thunder went 2-2 without him, winning at Houston on Friday night to close out that series in six games.
"They're not just a one-man team," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "They're a good team, and we have to go play and earn whatever we get in this series. I feel good about our team simply because where we're at mentally and physically. We're in good health and we've been playing pretty decent. That's why I feel pretty good about my team.
"I'm not worried about who they have or don't have. We have to go out ... and play according to our abilities."
Memphis became the first team ever to lose the first two games of a playoff series, then win each of the next four by double figures.
"We've got to refocus our attention to another really good team," point guard Mike Conley said. "We have got great incentive to play. This team has handled us and knocked us out two years ago. We have great games against them. It's another one of those teams — in order to achieve the goals we want to get, we have to go through them."
A capsule look at the NBA's second-round playoff series:
No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (66-16, 4-0) vs. No. 5 CHICAGO BULLS (45-37, 4-3)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. Both teams went 1-1 on their home floor. Chicago won in Miami 96-89 on Jan. 4, but the game everyone will talk about going into this series is how the Bulls prevailed 101-97 in Chicago on March 27 — the night that the Heat saw their 27-game winning streak come to an end. Miami won at Chicago 86-67 on Feb. 21, and took care of the Bulls in Miami by a final of 105-93 on April 14.
Story line: It's simple. Chicago snapped Miami's quest for history once this season by ending the 27-game streak, and will try to keep the Heat from having a chance to win a second straight NBA title. There will be plenty of talk about Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and why he remains sidelined more than a year after tearing his ACL, but if the first-round ouster of Brooklyn shows anything, it's that Chicago is plenty tough enough without the 2011 NBA MVP. And yes, the Bulls will have Miami's full attention, Rose or no Rose.
Key Matchup I: LeBron James vs. TBA. Luol Deng's status is a question mark for Chicago, and it's hard to envision someone like Jimmy Butler having much success trying to guard James. So it'll be a committee-type effort, with Taj Gibson getting plenty of time against James as well.
Key Matchup II: Mario Chalmers vs. Nate Robinson. As was clearly on display in the first round against Brooklyn, Chicago's best hope is getting Robinson into video-game mode and giving him a chance to make shots from everywhere. Robinson becomes a different player when he's feeling confident. Then again, so does Chalmers.
X-Factor: Dwyane Wade. If his knee is right, Miami clearly is better and should return to the Eastern Conference finals once again. If his knee isn't, Chicago has the type of team that could give Miami some big problems.
No. 2 NEW YORK KNICKS (54-28, 4-2) vs. No. 3 INDIANA PACERS (49-32, 4-2)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. The Knicks shot just 37 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3-point range. They sustained their worst loss of the season when the Pacers beat them 125-91 on Feb. 20 in Indianapolis, but managed to split the series and wrap up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 90-80 home victory April 14. Carmelo Anthony averaged 22 points but was only 4 of 17 on 3-pointers (23.5 percent), while Paul George scored 20 a game for the Pacers.
Story line: Back in the second round for the first time since 2000, the Knicks face a regular playoff rival from the 1990s, whose team president, Donnie Walsh, got them started on their return to prominence when he held the same position in New York from 2008-11. One of these teams will have to look sharper than it did in the first round to make people believe it would have a chance in a presumed conference finals matchup with Miami.
Key Matchup I: Tyson Chandler vs. Roy Hibbert. Chandler says he's fully recovered and finally looks it after he was sidelined for much of the end of the regular season with a bulging disk. He averaged 12.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in three appearances against the Pacers and outplayed Hibbert, who shot only 42 percent and averaged 5.5 points and 6.3 boards against the Knicks.
Key Matchup II: Anthony vs. David West. The Knicks' small lineup gives Anthony advantages on offense against power forwards but makes him susceptible to getting banged around on defense covering bigger guys, and he's battling left shoulder pain after Kevin Garnett pulled on his arm during the first round. The Knicks may consider a conventional lineup with Kenyon Martin — or even Amare Stoudemire if he can return from knee surgery — getting minutes against the rugged West.
X-Factor: Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni. They combined to shoot just 6 of 25 against the Pacers during the season but look much more ready to contribute offensively now. Shumpert scored 17 points and Prigioni had 14 in the Knicks' Game 6 clincher against Boston, combining for seven 3-pointers.
No. 1 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (60-22, 4-2) vs. No. 5 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (56-26, 4-2)
Season series: Grizzlies, 2-1. Oklahoma City's only win in the series came in the Grizzlies' first game after trading away leading scorer Rudy Gay and before Tayshaun Prince and their other acquisitions arrived. Memphis won 107-97 on the Thunder's home court in November and 90-89 in their own gym in March on Marc Gasol's tip-in at the overtime buzzer. There were nine technical fouls called in the three games, and that was just a hint of the hostility between these teams.
Story line: The Thunder managed to make it into the second round after losing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to a knee injury that will keep him out for the rest of the playoffs. Now, they must face Memphis, which has been emerging as a chief rival since the teams met in an epic seven-game series two years ago in the West semifinals. That series featured one triple-overtime game and another with a single overtime before Westbrook produced a triple-double in Oklahoma City's Game 7 win.
Key Matchup I: Kendrick Perkins vs. Zach Randolph. These two don't seem to like each other one bit. In the first meeting of the year, both were ejected for an on-court altercation, then ran into the back hallway of Chesapeake Energy Arena to continue it. Randolph was later fined for confronting Perkins outside the Thunder locker room. More importantly, the Thunder will depend on Perkins' post defense to slow Randolph, who has averaged 24.8 points during Memphis' current four-game winning streak.
Key Matchup II: Kevin Durant vs. Tony Allen/Prince. With Westbrook out, the Grizzlies could have the luxury of deploying both of their well-respected defenders at times against the league's second-leading scorer. Durant has averaged 35.5 points in the four games since Westbrook had surgery, and Oklahoma City still went just 2-2.
X-Factor: Reggie Jackson. After outlasting Chris Paul in the previous round, Memphis' Mike Conley would normally be prepping to face another All-Star, Westbrook. Instead, Jackson — a second-year point guard — is filling in. Westbrook averaged 19.3 points, 7.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds in the regular season against Memphis, and Jackson's ability to fill that void will go far in determining how the Thunder fare.
No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24, 4-0) vs. No. 6 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (47-35, 4-2)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. The Spurs shot 41.7 percent and scored 10 fewer points than their average (103.6) against the Warriors during the regular season. Golden State shot 42.1 percent and scored nearly seven points below its season average (99.9) per game. Of course, so many starters on both sides sat out various games to rest or recover from injuries it's difficult to predict whether those trends continue.
Story line: The Spurs have won a remarkable 29 straight over the Warriors in San Antonio since 1997, when Tim Duncan was still playing at Wake Forest. To win the series, Golden State will need to end that streak. Stephen Curry's 3-point prowess and Andrew Bogut's left ankle held up enough for the Warriors to overcome All-Star forward David Lee's hip injury to get past a fast and physical Denver team in six games. The Spurs earned a week of rest for aging stars Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Duncan after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers.
Key Matchup I: Bogut vs. Duncan. Bogut only played in one of the four meetings against the Spurs this season, when he had just four points and 11 rebounds in San Antonio's 104-93 home win March 20. His sore left ankle remains a constant concern, but Bogut has played his best this season in the playoffs. Duncan averaged 22.6 points, 12 rebounds, 3.6 blocks and 3.3 assists in the three games he played against Golden State. The Spurs were 2-1 when he started.
Key Matchup II: Jarrett Jack vs. Ginobili. Two of the NBA's top reserves are both key to their team's success. Ginobili missed nine of San Antonio's final 10 games with a strained right hamstring, then averaged 11.3 points and 4.8 assists in just fewer than 20 minutes per game against the Lakers. Jack started four of the six games against Denver after Lee's injury and averaged 18.8 points, seven assists and 5.2 rebounds in 38 minutes for the series.
X-Factor: Curry. He hit 272 3-pointers in the regular season, three more than Ray Allen's record set in 2005-06 with Seattle. Curry's bursts from beyond the arc overwhelmed Denver in the first round and make the Warriors a scary opponent every time he takes the court.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are ready to rumble again.
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