Russell Westbrook won’t play Tuesday night in Memphis, and Kevin Durant might not. But that’s only justice.
Marc Gasol and Tony Allen won’t play for the Grizzlies.
Sure, Durant and Westbrook are perennial all-stars and more exalted players than Gasol and Allen. But in some ways, Memphis playing without the duo of Gasol and Allen is like the Thunder playing without Westbrook and Durant.
The Thunder success is built on athletic ability and skill. Westbrook and Durant are wondrous players with the ball, with few peers. Westbrook is an athletic freak; bigger and quicker than an NFL cornerback. Durant is a natural freak; he’s like a superhero, Spiderman or somebody, at 6-foot-10 with ball skills and an eye for the game of a primo player a foot shorter.
Memphis’ success is built on defense. The Grizzlies guard with passion and ferocity. And Gasol and Allen are all-NBA defenders. Gasol is the reigning NBA defensive player of the year. Allen is perhaps the league’s best perimeter defender.
The Memphis defense without Gasol and Allen is like the Thunder offense without Durant and Westbrook. Not that we know what that offense looks like. Durant and Westbrook have missed a handful of games in six NBA seasons in Oklahoma City, but never at the same time.
But we can imagine the horror.
Which is what Memphis is living through. The Grizzlies are 17-19, a season after reaching the Western Conference Finals, in part because of Westbrook’s meniscus injury, which ignited the Grizzlies’ 4-1 series victory over the Thunder.
I picked the Grizzlies to win the NBA’s Western Conference. I own up to it. But I don’t think it was a bonehead pick. Yes, the Grizzlies will have to hustle to make the playoffs, but injuries have crippled Memphis. Gasol has played just 13 games. Allen has missed nine games and figures to miss more.
The only Grizzlies to play in every game are Mike Miller (yep, Mike Miller) and Kosta Koufos.
The Grizzlies hope Gasol returns soon. He hoped to go through a full practice Monday for the first time since suffering a knee sprain on Nov. 22. Allen has a wrist injury that figures to keep him sidelined; he did not practice Monday.
The Grizzlies are a shell of themselves without Gasol and Allen. Just as the Thunder would be — could be — if it plays without Durant and Westbrook.