We are a month away from the end of the NBA regular season. While it’s becoming obvious which teams are headed to the playoffs, there are still a few questions to answer in the standings, especially in the Western Conference.
Unless they completely fall apart over the last month, Mike Conley and D’Angelo Russell should be headed to the playoffs with the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Houston’s Jae’Sean Tate and Indiana’s Duane Washington Jr. won’t be involved in the playoffs this year, which leaves a question mark as to what Keita Bates-Diop will be doing next month. The Spurs are close to the playoffs, but they’ll have to somehow catch the New Orleans Pelicans to make the play-in game portion of the postseason.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
After reaching double figures in scoring just four times in 11 games in February, Washington has picked up his production over the past week, scoring at least 10 points in each of his last three games. It hasn’t all been easy recently for Washington though, as the rookie was just 1-of-9 from the field in last Wednesday’s overtime victory over Orlando. Ironically, Washington’s worst game of the past week was the only one that the Pacers have won.
Following the ugly shooting performance against the Magic, Washington has actually picked things up over the past three games, shooting 15-of-23 from the field, and 9-of-16 from behind the arc. The three consecutive games reaching double figures in scoring marked the first time in the last month that Washington has scored at least 10 points in three consecutive games.
What has helped Washington recently has been a little bit more consistent playing time. Last month, there was a six-game stretch in which Washington played more than 15 minutes just once. Currently, Washington has hit that mark in each of the last five games. Coincidentally, Washington has 56 points during those five games, while last month he had 17 total points in the six-game stretch where he only played more than 15 minutes once. The more time Washington spends on the court, the more comfortable he is with his shot. The struggles hit hard when Washington is relegated to the bench for long stretches.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
While Russell didn’t have quite the week scoring as he did the previous week when he scored 37 in Minnesota’s first game after the All-Star break, the point guard was active in setting others up to put points on the board. After scoring 17 points and dishing out seven assists in a win over Oklahoma City on Friday, Russell notched a career-high 15 dimes on Saturday against Portland. Russell’s previous high mark came just before Christmas when he recorded 14 assists against Utah. Saturday’s performance marked the 12th time this season that Russell has reached at least 10 assists in a game.
Unfortunately, Russell wasn’t able to see how he could follow up the career-best performance, since he missed Monday’s game, which was also against Portland. The good news for the Timberwolves is they didn’t miss Russell in the lineup, as Minnesota easily defeated the Trailblazers, earning their fifth consecutive win. Russell returned to the lineup last night against Oklahoma City, scoring just six points but recording 12 assists in his team’s 30-point win over the Thunder.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
Just as it looked like Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz had things back in order, the veteran point guard really struggled over the past week, shooting 6-of-25 from the field and scoring a total of 20 points over 84 minutes spread across three games. The Jazz lost two of the three games to start the month that Conley appeared in, with the only win coming in overtime last Wednesday against the Houston Rockets.
Jazz Injury Report (as of 3/5):— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 5, 2022
OUT - Mike Conley (right knee injury maintenance)
QUESTIONABLE - Juancho Hernangomez (right sacral contusion)
To try and snap Conley out of his recent funk, Utah did hold the point guard out of Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City. While the Jazz were able to defeat the Thunder, it didn’t help Conley much the next night, as Utah fell 111-103 at Dallas. At least Conley did have a notable bucket, as he scored his 14,000th point in the NBA. Conley and the Jazz have to be careful, because Dallas and Denver are nipping at Utah’s heels, and a couple losses could see the Jazz fall in the Western Conference standings.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
It’s very tough to get through a full NBA season without dealing with a few injuries. So far this year, Jae’Sean Tate has been available for just about every game Houston has played. This season the Rockets have played 65 heading into Wednesday night’s contest with the Lakers, with Tate suiting up for 63 of those games.
Dennis Schröder (sprained right ankle,) Christian Wood (illness) and Jae'Sean Tate (sore left ankle) questionable to play for the Rockets against the Lakers tomorrow.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) March 8, 2022
Even though it sounded like he was going to play in Wednesday night’s game against the Lakers, it was wise for Houston to give Tate the game off to give the former Buckeye’s left ankle a little time to heal. It has been obvious that Tate hasn’t been able to play at the same level lately as he did earlier in the year.
Between last Wednesday and Monday, Tate played in four games. While the forward was active on the boards, recording at least six rebounds in three of those games, Tate wasn’t scoring at quite the same clip as normal. The high mark in scoring last week for Tate came on Friday night when he scored 10 points against Denver. The Rockets really don’t have anything to play for, so it wouldn’t hurt the team to let Tate rest until he is healthy.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
Keita Bates-Diop (Lower Back), Romeo Langford (Right Hamstring), & Devontae Cacok (GLeague) are OUT— Ty Jäger (@TheTyJager) March 9, 2022
Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker & Joe Wieskamp have all been upgraded to AVAILABLE
Per Spurs #PorVida
As if there weren’t enough Buckeyes in the NBA dealing with injury issues, the worst ailment right now likely is the back injury Keita Bates-Diop is dealing with. Bates-Diop wasn’t all that active in the 22 minutes he played between last Thursday and Saturdays games, with his only noticeable performance coming a week ago against Sacramento when he pulled down four rebounds, registered three assists, and grabbed two steals.
After playing just five minutes on Saturday night against Charlotte, Bates-Diop not only missed Monday night’s game against the Lakers, he also wasn’t available for Wednesday night’s game against Toronto. Had Bates-Diop been healthy, he might have been able to see a little more playing time than normal since San Antonio is banged up right now. The Spurs will need Bates-Diop to recover as quickly as possible since they are just a couple games out of a spot for the play-in game.