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April 24, 2014

Southern comfort? Griz have won record 14 straight at home; OKC arrives for pivotal Game 3

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies are happy to be back in Memphis, where they finished the regular season by winning a franchise-record 14 straight games.

They brought home-court advantage with them.

To guard Mike Conley, that ratchets up the pressure even more. It’s time for the Grizzlies to protect the place they call the Grindhouse.

“It’s going to be tough against a team that’s played so well, especially on the road,” Conley said Wednesday of the Thunder. “But we’re happy with our position, I can tell you that much.”

The Grizzlies evened this first-round Western Conference series by winning 111-105 in overtime at Oklahoma City on Monday. Being the visitor tonight in a hostile arena for Game 3 isn’t a concern for the Thunder, who went 25-16 away from Oklahoma City for the NBA’s second-best road record in the regular season.

“Everybody’s going to be there. They’re going to have T-shirts. They’re going to be swinging towels,” Kevin Durant said. “It’s the playoffs. It’s going to be hostile, but we’ve been there before.”

Yes, the Thunder certainly have. But they have exactly one win in five previous postseason games in Memphis, and they needed three overtimes to pull that out in the 2011 conference semifinals. Memphis took both matchups in last year’s semifinals en route to winning the series in five.

Memphis went 5-2 at home in the 2013 playoffs, when San Antonio, in the conference finals, was the only visitor to win.

Tony Allen, who has made Durant work so much harder for his points in this series, said the Grizzlies can’t become complacent knowing they’ll have a loud crowd at the FedExForum.

“We got to understand it’s one game at a time,” Allen said. “It’s the playoffs. Each game counts. Each possession counts. We can’t get caught up in that.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger also has cautioned his team not to simply assume being home will make everything work. That 14-game winning streak that helped them reach the playoffs as the seventh seed also is meaningless. Joerger said it’s time to start over now, and the team that sets the tone for its style quickest has won each of the first two games.

Oklahoma City ran all over Memphis in winning the opener 100-86 in a game that was only that close because the Grizzlies had a big third quarter. The Grizzlies slowed the Thunder down from the opening tip Monday night in leading by as many as 10, even if they needed overtime after Durant’s amazing four-point play off his 3 falling out of bounds.

“Our team is a team that can’t play too far from behind because we play a certain style of basketball, and it’s tough,” Grizzlies forward Mike Miller said. “Our starts are big for us. They do have some pressure. They have some expectations.”

The Thunder practiced Wednesday in Oklahoma City before traveling to Memphis.

Coach Scott Brooks wants the Thunder to keep Conley and backup guard Beno Udrih in front of them. Udrih had 14 points in 14 minutes, giving Conley plenty of rest in his first extended action since being claimed off waivers in February.

Brooks also wants to make sure Memphis’ big men work for what they get. Zach Randolph scored 25 points Monday, hitting 10 of his 20 shots. Offensively, Oklahoma City wants to screen better to keep Allen away from Durant as much as possible.

“If we don’t have good setups and good screens, it’s going to bog down and it’s going to be tough shots at the end of the shot clock,” Brooks said.

Of course, that’s exactly what the Grizzlies want to slow down the Thunder.

“We just keep slogging along and we feel always that if we get you in a possession game, we feel like that over the course of 48 minutes that we can grind you down,” Joerger said.

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