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Thunder poised to make a run

By John McMullen, NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

That's not exactly the epiphany Oklahoma City was looking for but if you're the fourth seed in the NBA playoffs, it's probably a good idea to get ready for No. 1 if you find yourself in the conference semifinals.

Exactly three No. 8 seeds have knocked off the top dog in 55 tries until Friday when Memphis became the fourth, and just the second since the quarterfinals were expanded to a best-of-seven format.

The Grizzlies advanced thanks to a standout performance from forward Zach Randolph, who poured in 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. He scored 17 of his points in the fourth quarter, hitting 6-of-8 shots from a variety of locations on the floor.

Memphis had been 0-12 all-time in the postseason coming into the series, having been swept in all three of its previous playoff appearances, but was able to use its youth and athleticism against an aging, plodding Spurs club.

"I thought their athleticism, their strength, their size, really hurt us offensively," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. "Offensively we couldn't get a lot done. We really had trouble scoring against their defense. They deserve a lot of credit for that."

The game plan will have to change against the Thunder, perhaps the best young team in basketball.

Oklahoma City, the reigning Northwest Division kings, bounced Denver in five games during the first round and rely on two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, dynamic point guard Russell Westbrook, imposing shot blocker Serge Ibaka, athletic sixth man James Harden and a solid defensive presence in the middle, Kendrick Perkins.

You can spin it however you want.

The Spurs may have looked old against the Grizz but they were still the playoff-tested veterans that won 61 during the regular season, captured the Southwest Division title, and have four banners hanging from the rafters in the Alamo City.

Memphis on the other hand just captured the first playoff series victory in franchise history.

Yeah, the Grizzlies were 3-1 versus the Thunder in the regular season but all of those games took place before Oklahoma City swung a deal with Boston to acquire Perkins, a move that freed up Ibaka to become a terror as a weakside shot blocker.

It was all about that youth and athleticism for the Grizzlies against San Antonio. Now, they will have to develop a totally different mindset in less than two days for the Thunder.

With Durant, Westbrook and Harden on hand, Oklahoma City is never going to lose an up-tempo battle based on pushing things. Meanwhile, Perkins is the type of low-post defender that can keep Marc Gasol off the boards and stop Memphis from getting a significant amount of putbacks.

Translation...THUNDER in 6

Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good. In the case of OKC, they happen to have the best of both worlds -- both.

Here's a closer look at the rest of the NBA's "Elite Eight"...



The Bulls top four of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah is difficult for anyone to deal with. Add sharpshooter Kyle Korver to that mix in late-game situations and it's a nightmare scenario for any defense. The Hawks, while talented, simply don't have the kind of mental toughness or smarts to keep getting off the canvas when Chicago starts throwing haymakers.

"I think Atlanta could match up with Chicago on the frontline," former Bulls guard Steve Kerr said. "I'm not sure if they can deal with the Bulls' defense. [The Hawks] take a lot of bad shots and if you take a bad shot against Chicago, Derrick Rose is going to have a dunk on the other end."

BULLS in 5

(2) MIAMI vs. (3) BOSTON

This game will likely be marketed as the 'Boston Three Party' versus 'Miami Thrice' but in all reality, the Celtics "Big Three" became a "Fabulous Foursome" a few years ago with the development of Rajon Rondo, the kind of quick point guard that can really expose just how little Mike Bibby has left in the tank.

Mario Chalmers was able to offer some nice energy minutes and a defensive mindset against Philadelphia but he just can't hold up against Boston. Meanwhile, the Celtics' closers have proven far more adept this season than Miami's. In fact, inexplicably, the Heat, despite possessing both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have been one of the worst teams in basketball when things are tight at crunch time.

"These teams, when they're good, they're really good," TNT analyst Kenny Smith said. "Can the other team make you uncomfortable? The only thing that would say that the Boston Celtics would have the advantage is that they score and they defend and they can score multiple ways."



(2) LA LAKERS vs. (3) DALLAS

Ever since they coughed up a 2-0 lead to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat, observers have regarded the Mavericks as "soft," something they have attempted to alleviate by bringing in players like Tyson Chandler, Brandan Haywood and Caron Butler.

The Mavs are one of the few teams that can match the Lakers' impressive length with three-seven footers but there is more to it than matching size. LA's trio of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum sports impressive skill with that length. "Big D" has Dirk Nowitzki but Chandler is more of a defensive presence and Haywood in a plodding role player these days. Meanwhile, Dallas doesn't have the type of quick point guard that can expose Derek Fisher's deficiencies on the defensive end and Butler isn't making it back from his knee injury.

"There's no other team that can do what the Lakers can do when they are clicking and have all of their guys engaged," Former NBA star Reggie Miller said. "You can get a little bit of everything."


04/30 13:23:54 ET