While the eyes of the basketball world will be on the NCAA Tournament over the next few weeks, we can’t forget about the NBA, where the playoffs will be here before we know it. Teams have less than 15 games left this season, and it looks like both conferences will have races for seeding that will come down to the wire. It is looking like there will be two former Buckeyes in this year’s playoffs, as Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz and D’Angelo Russell of the Minnesota Timberwolves are currently in playoffs spots.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
The last week for Mike Conley has been quite a wild ride. Not only did Conley have one of his worst games of the season, then he followed it up with one of his best games of the year. The former Buckeye entered last Wednesday’s game coming off two horrific performances that saw him shoot 2-15 from the field and score a combined five points in 50 minutes on the floor in two losses by the Jazz.
The good news is that Utah won last Wednesday’s game against Portland easily, defeating the Blazers 123-85. The bad news is Conley again struggled in limited action, making just one of his five shots in the game. Things would get even worse for Conley on Friday night against San Antonio, with the point guard going 2-14 and finishing with eight points in 31 minutes. At least Conley was able to contribute in other areas, grabbing five steals, dishing out five assists, and grabbing five rebounds.
With Monday’s game being telecast on ESPN, Conley snapped out of his recent funk on national television, making 10 of his 13 shots, including shooting 6-9 from behind the arc, finishing with 29 points in the 117-111 loss to Milwaukee. The six three-pointers by Conley in the game fell just one shy of tying his season-high, which came back in early December when he hit seven three-pointers against Boston.
The Jazz are going to need more of the Conley that we saw on Monday night and less of the Conley that we saw in the previous four games. Even though Utah currently is the fourth seed in the Western Conference, the three teams behind them have all been playing better basketball recently, Utah currently has 14 games remaining this season, and if they’re not careful they could end up in the play-in mini-tournament for a playoff spot.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
If Duane Washington Jr. plays in the second half of March as well as he has in the first half, there’s no doubt that this will be the rookie’s best month as a professional. After starting off the month with an ugly performance against Orlando where he scored just three points. In the six games since, Washington has scored at least 11 points in each game.
Washington’s best performance of the past week came on Sunday in a 131-128 loss to Atlanta, where he scored 22 points. The scoring output tied a career-high that he had previously set in late January against the Dallas Mavericks, which was also the last time Washington had scored at least 20 points in a game this year. Washington has now scored at least 20 points four times this year in the 38 games he has appeared in.
What has helped the uptick in Washington’s scoring is he has been a lot better this month from three-point range. After going 0-3 from behind the arc in the March 2nd contest against Orlando, Washington has hit at least two three-pointers in each of the last six games and hit at least 40% of his three-point attempts during that span.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
D’Angelo Russell hasn’t been playing his best basketball of late. Then again, he hasn’t had to since Karl-Anthony Towns is playing out of his mind. In each of the four games starting with last Wednesday’s 132-102 win over Oklahoma City, Russell dished out at least six assists in each of those contests, with the high during that span being 12 assists in the win over the Thunder.
While Russell has been struggling, it hasn’t hurt Minnesota, since the Timberwolves are 6-1 so far in March. Currently, the Timberwolves sit in seventh place in the Western Conference, which would force them to play in the play-in tournament for a playoff spot. There is still time for Minnesota to move up a spot or two to secure a true playoff spot, especially since Utah has been struggling of late. With Towns, Russell, and Anthony Edwards back from injury, Minnesota is going to be a tough team to beat in the NBA Playoffs.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
When we pubbed last week’s Buckeye NBA recap piece, we already knew that Jae’Sean Tate was dealing with an ankle injury that would force him to miss last Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets somehow were able to defeat the Lakers without Tate, which has been their only victory over the last four games. Then again, losses have been very common for Houston this year.
After Tate also missed Friday’s game against Dallas, the former Buckeye returned for Houston’s last game, which was on Sunday at New Orleans. Tate was on the court for 20 minutes in the 130-105 loss, scoring 14 points on 6-10 shooting. After a tough start to the month, Tate will try and finish March on a strong note before Houston’s season closes with a few games in April.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
Much like Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop has been dealing with an injury lately. Bates-Diop has had some back issues, which has kept him off the court for the majority of the last week. The only game that Bates-Diop played in was on Saturday against Indiana, and he was only on the court for eight minutes, scoring two points and grabbing three rebounds.
It’s hard to imagine Bates-Diop getting back out onto the court anytime soon, and even if he does, he like won’t play many meaningful minutes. There’s still a chance that San Antonio could make the NBA play-in tournament for a playoff spot, but it’s likely they’ll have to do that without getting much from Bates-Diop. Then again, it’s not like they haven’t been used to that for most of the season, as Bates-Diop is averaging 5.3 points per game in 16.1 minutes per game.