It feels like just yesterday that the NBA season was kicking off, and now we are a couple weeks away from the playoffs getting underway. Right now we will definitely be seeing Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz, as well as D’Angelo Russell and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the playoffs in some form. The Jazz are currently in the playoffs, while Minnesota is safely in the play-in tournament. The question is, will Keita Bates-Diop and the San Antonio Spurs be able to hold off the Los Angeles Lakers for the final spot in the play-in tournament in the Western Conference?
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
After missing a couple games due to an ankle injury a few weeks ago, and seeing some of his minutes limited as he worked through the injury, Jae’Sean Tate saw a little bit of an uptick in his playing time of the past week. In Monday night’s 123-120 loss to San Antonio, Tate played 28 minutes, which was the most time he was on the court in any of the 14 games he has appeared in so far in the month of March.
One area that Tate has been better in during March has been his three-point shooting, hitting on 37 percent of his attempts for distance this month. The only month where Tate shot better from behind the arc was in January, when he hit 41 percent of his three-point attempts. In Friday’s 125-106 win at Portland, Tate hit three three-pointers, which was the fourth time this season that he hit a trio of triples in a game.
On a team that is rebuilding, Tate has been a constant for the Rockets this year, playing in 72 games and starting 71 of those contests. The 71 starts by Tate are the most of any player on the Rockets, while the 72 games played only trail Kenyon Martin Jr. Even though Tate is only in his second year in the NBA, he’ll provide a veteran presence for Houston next year, as the Rockets will again have a young team that will be working to find their identity.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
The Jazz have picked the worst time to play some of their worst basketball of the season. Utah has now lost five straight games after Tuesday’s 121-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Entering Wednesday night’s games, Utah has the same record as the Denver Nuggets, with the Jazz holding the fifth spot because of a tiebreaker. If Utah falls to sixth in the Western Conference, they’ll likely be looking at facing Golden State in the first round of the playoffs
While there hasn’t been much to be positive about for the Jazz lately, at least Mike Conley’s play has been trending upward over the last week. Following a 4-of-12 shooting performance against Boston last Wednesday, Conley shot at least 50 percent from the field in each of his next three games. Conley has also been a lot better with his three-point shooting in March than he was in February. Last month Conley hit just 31 percent of his three-point attempts, while this month he is shooting 39 percent, which is just a percentage point shy of his season average.
There’s no question that Utah has the talent to be a threat in the Western Conference, the problem is they are having trouble staying healthy. Joe Ingles is already lost for the year, while Bojan Bogdanovic, Hassan Whiteside, and Danuel House Jr. are all dealing with injuries. It’s not even like the Jazz need Conley to shoulder a heavy scoring load, since Donovan Mitchell can take over a game. If Utah doesn’t get things together, they could be looking at another early playoff exit.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
One of the most puzzling developments lately in the NBA has been the play of D’Angelo Russell. At times in March, it has been a struggle for Russell to even put the basketball through the hoop. In the past week, Russell scored just six points against Phoenix, and four points on Sunday against Boston, with both contests being losses for the Timberwolves. Those poor performances sandwiched a 15-point game against Dallas on Friday. Russell has been ice cold from distance over the past week, going 1-of-14 from three-point range.
At least Russell has been able to still get his teammates involved while he has struggled to score. Over his past three games, Russell has dished out 21 assists during that span. In 61 games this year, Russell has recorded 433 assists, which is the second-highest mark in his career, only trailing his career-high of 563 assists during Brooklyn during the 2018-19 season.
Minnesota is safely in the NBA play-in tournament, as they currently sit seventh in the Western Conference. If the Timberwolves have any hopes of moving into the sixth spot, which is currently occupied by Denver, Russell has to start playing like the player he was earlier in the season. Minnesota will try and make up some ground on the Nuggets when they square off with Denver on Friday night in a huge contest in the Mile High City.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
This isn’t exactly the way that Duane Washington Jr. was hoping to wind down his first season in the NBA. After playing 21 minutes in last Wednesday’s game against Sacramento, as well as Thursday’s contest against Memphis, the Buckeye rookie missed games on Saturday and Monday as he is dealing with a bruised right hip.
Washington was able to score 11 points in last Wednesday’s 110-109 loss to Sacramento before scoring just four points against Memphis on Thursday, snapping a nine-game streak in which he had reached double figures in scoring. While it was looking like Washington could have received some increased minutes to close out the season due to injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Chris Duarte in the backcourt, the recent hip injury has thrown a wrench into some of those hopes.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
The good news for Keita Bates-Diop is he was able to get back on the court last week after dealing with a back injury for most of the month. Last Wednesday, Bates-Diop appeared in his first game since March 12, playing 10 minutes and scoring six points in a 133-96 win over Portland. The Ohio State alum would follow that up by playing for 12 minutes in Saturday’s game against New Orleans.
Bates-Diop didn’t see any action on Monday against Houston, but head coach Gregg Popovich likely wanted to give the forward a little rest so he wouldn’t reaggravate his back injury. San Antonio has been on a roll lately, winning their last four games heading into Wednesday night’s game against Memphis. The Spurs do have a tough close to the season, with games against Denver, Minnesota, Golden State, and Dallas still ahead of them. With the type of competition they’ll be facing, the Spurs will need whatever they can get out of Bates-Diop if they want to stay ahead of the Lakers in the chase for the final spot in the NBA play-in tournament.