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Looking to keep pace in West, Thunder take on Grizzlies

Mar 14, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) lays up a shot in front of Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) during the second half at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams took over late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 126-199 win over Dallas on Thursday.

The duo combined to score 20 fourth-quarter points and help the Thunder keep pace atop the Western Conference standings.

Gilgeous-Alexander is no stranger to that position, as he’s emerged over the past few years as one of the NBA’s top players.

Williams, the second-year wing from Santa Clara, has been more of a surprise.

Williams hopes to continue his ascent Saturday when the Thunder take on host the Memphis Grizzlies.

“When you grow up watching basketball, that’s what you see,” Williams said of the plays he and Gilgeous-Alexander made against the Mavericks. “You watch the biggest stars make those plays. That’s the position every player wants to be in. I think for me, it’s just more exciting to be able to be in those positions.

“Those are moments we all live for.”

Williams hopes Saturday’s game against the Grizzlies goes better for him than the last meeting.

In Oklahoma City’s 124-93 victory over the Grizzlies on Sunday, Williams aggravated an ankle injury twice, playing just 10 minutes before leaving the game for good after twisting his ankle while falling on a courtside cameraman after a layup.

Even as his role expands, Williams’ energy continues to grow as well.

“It comes from how hard he plays,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “It’s really that simple. It’s interesting to see guys that can get a lot of minutes, that can bite into your effort and energy over the course of a long season. And when you get the ball more, that can bite into your effort and your energy. That’s human nature.

“As he’s earned having the ball more, his energy, his defense, his effort, his intensity — none of that stuff has dropped off.”

Oklahoma City (46-20) comes into Saturday’s game having won 11 of its past 14. The Grizzlies are coming off a 110-98 loss to Charlotte and have dropped three of their past four.

The Grizzlies (23-44) have struggled with injuries for much of the season but could get some help soon with the return of shooting guard Desmond Bane from a left ankle sprain.

Bane hasn’t played since Jan. 12.

Grizzlies rookie GG Jackson, who hadn’t emerged as a regular member of the rotation when Bane went down, has averaged 13.8 points and shot 43.5 percent from the floor in more than 24 minutes per game over his past 29 games.

Jackson is looking forward to Bane’s return.

“Getting to play on the floor with him, it should be fun,” Jackson said. “The best players will have to guard him, so I’ll be able to catch some other defenders slacking off a back cut or something like that. It should be good.”

Though the Thunder are 27-7 at home, they’ll need success on the road if they are to secure the top spot in the Western Conference. The Thunder will play nine of their next 12 games on the road, starting with Saturday’s game.

Saturday’s meeting is the last of three between the teams this season. The Thunder have won the first two meetings by an average of 20 points.

–Field Level Media

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