Last calls for OKC-Memphis

Game 7. Two of the greatest words in sports. Win and go on. Lose and live with regret.

We have the first Game 7 of the 2011 NBA postseason Sunday: Grizzlies at Thunder, on ABC at 3:30 ET. And the Game 7 winner will be just eight wins from the NBA title.

Can the No. 8 seed Grizzlies really reach the Western Conference finals? Are Kevin Durant and his young OKC squad ready to take the next step? Who are the rested and ready Dallas Mavericks hoping to see?

We asked five writers:

1. Why have we underestimated the Grizzlies every step of the way?

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: We made the same mistake with the Grizzlies that we did with the Hawks: With an up-and-down team we placed more value on their bad than we did on their good. Memphis lost both games to the Nets but also beat the Lakers twice (which proved prophetic both ways). We also underappreciate defensive-oriented teams, which is how the 2004 Pistons crept up on us.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: To be honest, it's kind of hard to take the No. 8 seed seriously when it comes to the playoffs. There is nothing beautiful about this Grizzlies team. They grind everything out and beat you up. There is nothing scintillating about what Memphis does and it makes them very easy to overlook. They've made us look foolish for doing so.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I would argue not that Memphis has wildly exceeded our postseason expectations, but that they've exceeded them just enough to make a big difference in the ultimate perception. We thought it would be a close first round with San Antonio winning; instead it was close with Memphis winning. Round 2 could very well produce the same result.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: The coach has one job, really: Make the sum stronger than its parts. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has done that beautifully, but we also have to take into account the failure of the Thunder to play a great game to close out the series. They simply did not elevate their game at all. Memphis has to get credit for some of that, but the fault lies mostly with OKC.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Can't speak for the rest of the crew, but I haven't underestimated them. I've overestimated their two playoff opponents. Too much respect for San Antonio's dominance in the first 60-something to pick against the Spurs in Round 1 and too much reverence for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Round 2. But OKC's star twosome just isn't clicking and they're getting less help right now than we all imagined.

2. Memphis in the West finals would be biggest playoff surprise since ...

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The 2007 Warriors. While the Warriors were a tough regular-season matchup for Dallas, the fact they took four playoff games with that style was stunning.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Is it too soon to say the Lakers being swept by the Mavericks? I don't think anybody really expected the Suns to get to the Western Conference finals last year and they accomplished it. I don't remember a lot of people expecting the Magic to get to the 2009 finals. There's one every year. Memphis could be that team in 2011.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Since New York made the Finals in 1999. Not a single No. 6, 7 or 8 seed has advanced to the conference finals since. And No. 8 seed Golden State's win over Dallas in 2007 wasn't as big a shock given the season series sweep they had on the Mavs, and the fact that it was only one round and not two they won.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Moses parted the Red Sea. I think it's the biggest surprise ever, but not because Memphis is weak. The Grizzlies are terrific in almost every phase except 3-point shooting, which is why this is such a surprise. Upsets come most easily when a team shoots lights-out from 3, yet Memphis has had success against OKC by just playing smarter, harder and with a better possession-by-possession plan.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Since the 40-42 Rockets making it all the way to the 1981 NBA Finals if we're basing this on the old stigma of what "Memphis" signified around the league for the first couple years after the Pau Gasol trade. But based on the evidence of this season? Memphis winning two rounds wouldn't even rank as the surprise of these playoffs. Dallas sweeping the Lakers still trumps it.

3. Which key players or factors will you be watching in Game 7?





J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Thunder bench. We already learned about Durant and Westbrook in pressure situations during the World Championships in Turkey. I want to see if this entire second unit can respond to this test. Inevitably some players get too tight in Game 7. Will that derail this group that played so well in this series?

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: The key factor for OKC in this game has to be coach Scott Brooks. Is he going to get Westbrook to attack in the right spots and not just in some random fashion? Will he find ways to get Durant the ball in good scoring positions? Will he stop wasting possessions by going to Kendrick Perkins in the post? His game plan will determine the outcome.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Durant. The Grizzlies really frustrated him in Game 5 and his production has steadily declined as the series has worn on. He needs to aggressively get the ball and attack the basket for Oklahoma City to advance.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Durant and Zach Randolph will have to create buckets in tight situations. OKC will put more attention on slowing Randolph, so how Memphis shoots on the perimeter will be huge, and I'm referring to 14-to 20-foot shots. The Thunder need to translate energy on defense into turnovers and easy shots, so they are not forced to face Memphis' outstanding five-on-five defense as often.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: How the Thunder defend Randolph and Durant's shot selection. I'm doubling that ball out of Z-Bo's hands way more than we saw in Game 6 and making anyone else beat me if I'm OKC. And Durant has to get to better spots on the floor than he did in Game 6. I know the early fouls took him out of rhythm, but the Thunder don't have the offensive alternatives to get through a Game 7 with Durant settling like he did in Friday night's second half.

4. Who should the Mavericks be rooting for in Game 7?

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Mavs should be rooting for the Grizzlies. Yes, they fared better against the Thunder during the regular season, but if the Grizzlies advance they will have played more playoff games than any of the other conference finalists. We saw them lose their legs after that 3OT game, now they'd have a quick turnaround following a seven-game series and a tight schedule. It'll catch up to them.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: The Mavericks should be rooting for the Grizzlies to win Game 7. Not to overlook them again but Dallas has the size inside to battle the Grizzlies' big men and Memphis has struggled to defend the 3 all season long. Oklahoma City has a lot of weapons and depth to throw at Dallas.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com:
Memphis. Neither of its two starting big men can guard Dirk Nowitzki, while the Mavs' small guards aren't as vulnerable to the Memphis backcourt as they would be against Oklahoma City's Westbrook-James Harden combo.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Oklahoma City. Like Neo in "The Matrix," if this Memphis team takes a road Game 7, it will truly be "walking the path." This will more than make up the difference on the matchup front, which slightly favors OKC against Dallas. Mike Conley will give Jason Kidd problems on ball screens, and the Memphis bigs will pound the paint all night and cause Dirk to expend a lot of energy on that end.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: OKC. Same as it's been all series long. You don't want Nowitzki dealing with Z-Bo or Marc Gasol for a whole series if you're the Mavs. Dirk versus Serge Ibaka, which pulls Ibaka away from the bucket, is a more advantageous matchup for the Mavs. But make no mistake: Dallas is the favorite against either team. The Mavs' biggest problem is the eight full days off since their last game and how they handle the resultant rust. That's a L-O-N-G break.

5. Who wins Game 7?

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Thunder.
Durant and Westbrook will outplay everyone else on court, and that noisy OKC crowd will boost the Thunder and wear down the Grizzlies.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: I picked the Thunder in seven games and I'll stick with that pick. OKC is 24-6 after a loss this season (including the playoffs). I think the Thunder will be galvanized by their fans and come out with a lot of offense. Plus, it's hard to think the Grizzlies will survive another game.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I still think OKC prevails, not only because it has home court in the seventh game but also because it should have the two best players on the court on Sunday. And I just can't imagine Durant submitting as meek a performance as he did on Friday.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.:
OKC. I see Game 7 looking like Game 5. The Thunder bring a ton of energy and they create all sorts of defensive havoc with it. This is all part of the maturation process of the young Thunder players. They will embrace the challenge and play their best game of the series. Memphis is expertly coached but probably needs a poor OKC performance to win.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Originally picked OKC in seven in this series. Only reason I still think that pick will end up being right -- one of my few this postseason -- is the short turnaround between Game 6 and Game 7. That's a lot harder for the big guys (Z-Bo and Gasol) to handle than the likes of Durant and Westbrook. Otherwise? Memphis has all the momentum and not nearly as much pressure. The Thunder will be looking at their first semblance of a crisis if they can't pull this out. Won't surprise me a bit to see the Griz steal this one.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
J.A. Adande, John Hollinger and Marc Stein are senior writers for ESPN.com. Zach Harper writes for the TrueHoop Network and moderates Daily Dime Live. David Thorpe writes for Scouts Inc.
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