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Thunder Role Players Must Step Up Against Memphis

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

Now that Houston is out of the way, Oklahoma City is set to face off with Memphis in the second round for the second time in the past three years.

In 2011, it took OKC seven games to dispatch of the Grizzlies and this year's rematch is shaping up to be a bear once again. For the Thunder to have a realistic shot of getting past Memphis, it will need Friday night's well-rounded performance from its role players to become the norm.

The stellar play of Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin and Nick Collison off the bench and the steady contributions from Reggie Jackson will be vital to the Thunder's ability to compete against a brutally physical Memphis club.

Memphis is deep, athletic, and features the league's best front court with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. But it has something else not many teams can boast – two elite defenders to throw at Kevin Durant.

The odds are good that Durant won't spend one second of this series without one of the two smothering his every move. As a result, KD will need help and lots of it.

Former Piston Tayshaun Prince will draw the primary defensive assignment against KD, and the 6-foot-9 veteran has the height, athleticism and savvy to make Durant work far more for looks than he was forced to against Houston. And when Prince isn't hounding No. 35, former Oklahoma State standout Tony Allen will be. Despite his size disadvantage at 6-foot-4, Allen is one of the league's premier defenders and what he lacks in height, he makes up for in strength and tenacity.

While Durant will still have to shoulder the lion's share of the offensive responsibilities without Russell Westbrook in the lineup, it won't come easily.

And when KD slices into the lane, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year will be waiting for him in Gasol.

This series is going to be considerably different than what Thunder fans saw transpire against the offensive-minded Rockets.

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From top to bottom, Memphis is one of the league's premiere defensive teams, having ranked No. 1 in the league in points allowed at 89.3 points per game in the regular season. Houston was the third worst defensive team in the NBA.

Yes, Durant experienced success against the Grizzlies in the regular season, averaging 31 points per game in three meetings. But that was with Westbrook in the lineup and Memphis still won the regular season series 2-1 and held OKC 8.4 points below its season average.

Safe to say, Russ will be sorely missed.

Oklahoma City will need significant – and consistent – performances from everyone on the roster who warrants minutes in this slugfest of a series.

And that goes beyond just Jackson, Martin, Collison and Fisher. It includes Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, who were subpar against Houston. And it certainly includes Kendrick Perkins, who had inarguably the worst first-round series of anyone for OKC. Perk serves a much larger purpose against the bigger, more physical Grizz, but he will need to take his game to a different level.

As we saw against Houston, Durant can do a lot but he can't do it all.

It's time for the role players on this team to step up or the Thunder will be in serious trouble. Here's hoping Friday night's performance against the Rockets is a sign of things to come.

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