We have closed the book on the NBA regular season. Now all that is left before we can officially start the 2022 NBA Playoffs is the two play-in games that will take place on Friday night. No matter what happens in those two games, we know there will be two former Ohio State Buckeyes involved in this year’s postseason. How many games the two standout one-and-done Buckeye guards will play in this postseason is a can of worms that I’m not about to open up right now, since there are so many variables that could effect the answers.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
D’Angelo Russell played in just one game over the past week, but the former Buckeye made sure to save one of his best performances of the season for Minnesota’s most important game to-date. The Timberwolves entered Tuesday’s play-in game as the seventh seed in the Western Conference, which earned them a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers, who were the eighth seed out west. The winner of the game would earn a spot in the first round of the playoffs opposite of the Memphis Grizzlies, who had the second-best record in the Western Conference.
With the seventh seed secured for Minnesota, Russell sat out the final two games of the regular season. After struggling for much of the month of March, we started to see signs of Russell returning to form in the final three games he played in the regular season. With a few extra days of rest, Russell was definitely ready for the moment, scoring 29 points, including a 29-foot three-pointer with 4:40 left to give the Timberwolves the lead for good. Minnesota’s guard didn’t just provide clutch scoring, Russell also added six assists, five rebounds, and three steals to the cause.
Now Minnesota will turn their attention to Memphis, who posted 56 wins this year, which was a franchise record. The Timberwolves won’t just roll over in this season, as they split the season series with the Grizzlies 2-2. D’Angelo Russell was outstanding in all four meetings with Memphis, scoring at least 28 points in each of the four games. The last game between the teams came on February 24th in Minneapolis, where the Timberwolves squeezed out a 119-114 victory. Russell had his best performance of the year against Memphis, scoring 37 points and dishing out nine assists.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
After Russell and the Timberwolves earned a playoff spot on Tuesday night, the following evening Keita Bates-Diop and the San Antonio Spurs had a chance to extend their season for at least one game. The Spurs were the Western Conference’s 10th-seed, which sent them to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans, who finished two games ahead of San Antonio in the standings. The winner of the contest secured a spot in Los Angeles on Friday night against the Clippers in the final play-in game.
After playing just 52 minutes across five games in March due to a back injury, it looked like Keita Bates-Diop was heading into Wednesday night’s game with some confidence. On April 3rd, Bates-Diop scored 12 points against Portland, marking just his ninth game reaching double figures in scoring this season. Bates-Diop follow that performance up with 14 points against Minnesota last Thursday. The San Antonio forward also had seven rebounds in both of those games.
It looked as if Bates-Diop was going to be a part of San Antonio’s rotation of the bench against the Pelicans, as he entered the play-in game having played a total of 60 minutes in the final three regular season games. Unfortunately, Bates-Diop had little involvement in the game, playing just six minutes. Bates-Diop didn’t attempt a shot while on the floor, and his only contribution came when he was credited with an assist. San Antonio was playing from behind essentially the whole game, as New Orleans took the lead for good with just under six minutes to go in the first quarter.
Even though it had to be a frustrating season at times for Bates-Diop, especially when he wasn’t available to play for much of March, the fourth-year pro set a number of career-best marks. Not only did the 59 games played and 14 games started shatter Bates-Diop’s high marks entering this season, he also posted career-high averages with 3.9 rebounds per game and a 51.7 field goal percentage. Bates-Diop also had one of the most memorable performances of the regular season, making all 11 of this field goal attempts and scoring 30 points on December 23rd in the final Lakers home game with Staples holding the naming rights to the arena in Los Angeles. Unless a move is made during the offseason, Bates-Diop is under contract with the Spurs for the 2022-23 NBA season.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
Even though the flirted with faltering over the few weeks of the regular season and getting passed by the Denver Nuggets in the standings, the Utah Jazz were able to hold on to the Western Conference’s fifth seed. After falling to Phoenix on Friday, the Jazz and Nuggets entered Sunday tied in the standings. Luckily the Jazz were playing the Portland Trailblazers, who had given up on the season long ago. Utah easily handled Portland 111-80, while Denver lost in overtime to the Lakers, setting Utah up with a first round series against the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite Conley being right around his averages in the final two games of the regular season, Utah doesn’t have a ton of confidence right now. In their final 11 games, the Jazz were just 4-7, with three of those wins coming against teams that failed to make the playoffs. If Utah wants to make it out of the first round, they’ll need Conley to be a facilitator for Donovan Mitchell, who has been incredible in the playoffs over the last two years, scoring at least 30 points in 12 of Utah’s 17 postseason games.
The Jazz and Mavericks split the regular season series, as Utah won the first two meetings, and Dallas winning the two most recent matchups. Aside from a dreadful game on March 7th against the Mavericks where Conley went just 1-7 from the field, the veteran guard recorded at least 14 points in the other three contests, which included a 22-point scoring effort in a 120-116 win over Dallas on Christmas. The Jazz could be catching the Mavericks at the perfect time, since it’s highly doubtful star guard Luka Doncic will play in the first game of the series on Saturday because of a calf strain. Doncic might have a tough time getting healthy enough to play in Game 2 on Monday, which allows Utah a great opportunity to head back to Salt Lake City with at least one win in their pocket.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
Much of the excitement from Duane Washington Jr. came leading up to the final week of the regular season, as not only did Washington sign a multiyear contract with the Indiana Pacers, the rookie had ideas of putting Philadelphia’s DeAndre Jordan on a poster, causing Jordan to be ejected in the April 5th contest because of a hard foul on the dunk attempt. Washington closed out his first season in the NBA in style, putting a dunk against the Nets on his highlight real on Sunday.
Indiana may have closed out an ugly season by losing 10 straight games, but that didn’t stop Washington from ending the season on a high note. Washington scored 15 points in 26 minutes on Saturday against Philadelphia, and followed that up with 15 points in 19 minutes against Brooklyn on Sunday. Over his final two games, Washington was 13-21 from the field, and 6-10 from three-point range. Even though he showed some promise during the season, it’s tough to predict what is in store for Washington in the 2022-23 season, since the Pacers do have a crowded backcourt.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
Nobody will ever be able to question Jae’Sean Tate’s commitment to the game of basketball. On a Houston Rockets team that just went 20-62, giving them the worst record in the NBA this year, Tate played in 78 games and was on the court for over 2,000 minutes, which was the third-highest total on the Rockets this year. If Tate had about five more games this year, he might have reached 1,000 points this year. The second-year NBA player finished the year with 919 points.
Tate’s best performance of the season came on the first day of December against Oklahoma State. Not only did Tate score 32 points, pull down 10 rebounds, and drop seven dimes in the 114-110 victory over the Thunder, the win was Houston’s fourth straight in a stretch that saw them win seven games in a row, which was nearly a third of their victories on the season. Following a rookie season that saw him record three double-doubles in 70 games, Tate upped that number this year, notching seven double-doubles in his 78 appearances. The grit and versatility that Tate possesses should see him as a contributor in Houston again next season.