The NBA regular season ends on Sunday, which means two former Ohio State players will getting an early start on their offseason. Two Buckeye alums have at least clinched spots in the play-in tournament that will take place next week, while Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz have secured a spot in the actual playoffs. With all the postseason spots decided, we’ll likely see a pretty tame end to the regular season before the action heats up next week.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
Around a year ago, there were a number of Ohio State “fans” who said Duane Washington Jr. needed to come back to Columbus for another year because if he declared for the draft he’d be a bust, or playing overseas somewhere. Early on it looked like those who doubted Washington’s abilities were going to be right when Washington wasn’t selected in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Washington is getting the last laugh, as on Wednesday the Indiana Pacers converted Washington’s contract to a standard, multi-year NBA contract. Prior to this, Washington was paid a flat rate that was equal to the league’s minimum salary, with the contract not being guaranteed. Now, Washington will make twice as much, and also not have to worry about being cut at any time.
The news of Washington’s converted contract came a little more than 12 hours after Indiana’s 131-112 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, which was the eighth-straight loss for the Pacers. While Washington scored 12 points in the loss, he was lucky to escape injury when he was hit on a dunk attempt across the face by DeAndre Jordan, who was assessed a flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game.
Indiana only has two games left this season, and have already been eliminated from playoff contention. Hopefully any tensions from Tuesday night’s game against the 76ers don’t spill over to Saturday’s game between the two teams in Philadelphia. The Pacers close out their season on Sunday in Brooklyn against the Nets.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
After struggling for much of the last month, D’Angelo Russell finally showed some signs that he might be breaking out of his slump. In Friday’s 136-130 win at Denver, Russell scored 24 points, marking the first time since March 1 that he scored at least 20 points in a game. The former Buckeye followed up Friday’s performance with 22 points, nine assists, and four steals on Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, they weren’t able to win their most recent game, falling to Washington 132-114 on Thursday. The silver lining in the loss was Russell scored 17 points and dished out 11 assists, notching his first double-double in a month, and his 12th this season.
Minnesota looks like they’ll be headed for the play-in tournament as the seventh seed in the Western Conference, which will likely see them host the Los Angeles Clippers. If Minnesota is able to defeat the Clippers, they’ll be facing Memphis in the first round of the playoffs. If the Timberwolves lose but defeat the winner of the matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, Russell and company will take on the Phoenix Suns.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
After entering Thursday’s game against the Lakers on a five-game losing streak, Utah righted their ship a little bit, winning two of their next three games. Following last Tuesday night’s game against the Clippers that saw Mike Conley hit four three-pointers, the Ohio State guard hit four more threes in Thursday’s 122-109 win over the Lakers. Two nights later, Conley stroked five three-pointers and finished with 26 points and eight assists against Golden State. It wouldn’t be enough to lead Utah to a victory, as the Warriors edged the Jazz 111-107.
Utah was able to avoid heading into the last three games of the regular season on a two-game losing streak when they beat Conley’s old team, the Memphis Grizzlies, 121-115 in overtime on Tuesday. Conley again had eight assists in the game to go along with the 13 points he scored. The win helped the Jazz stay half a game ahead of Denver for the fifth spot in the Western Conference, with a game in hand on the Nuggets. If the standings stay the same, Utah will be playing Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, but the Mavericks are just a game behind the Warriors for the third seed.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
March was a tough month for Keita Bates-Diop, who played in just five games and scored 12 points when he was on the court. April is already off to a much better start for the former Buckeye. Not only did the Spurs clinch a spot in the play-in tournament, Bates-Diop reached double figures in scoring for the first time since Feb. 26, netting 12 points in Sunday’s 113-92 win over Portland.
It’s easy to see that Bates-Diop will be an important player off the bench for the Spurs in the games San Antonio has left this year. Bates-Diop has played at least 17 minutes in each of the last three games. The Spurs are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, posting an 8-2 record in their last 10 games. Heading into Wednesday night’s action, San Antonio was just a game behind New Orleans for the ninth seed in the Western Conference. But, the Spurs close out the regular season with road contests against Minnesota and Dallas, with a home game against Golden State sandwiched in between. The tough finish will make it difficult for San Antonio to jump New Orleans for home-court advantage in the play-in game.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
It’s obvious the Rockets are ready for the final whistle on their 2021-22 season. Currently on a five-game losing streak, all Houston has to do is lose their final two games and they’ll have the best odds to win the NBA Draft lottery and secure the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. It’s hard to not see the Rockets losing both of those games, as they travel to Toronto on Friday before hosting Atlanta on Sunday.
There hasn’t been much notable about Tate’s play over the last month, but with 76 games played this year, it’s easy to understand why Tate might not be as impactful on the court after putting in so many tough minutes throughout the season. Things would probably be a lot different if Houston was fighting for a playoff spot.
Tate’s best performance of the last week came on Friday when he scored 15 points against Sacramento. The scoring output marked his second-highest point total since the beginning of March. Heading into the final two games of the season, Tate has scored 902 points this year in exactly 2000 minutes played. Tate is currently leading the league with 279 personal fouls, and it’s unlikely Tate will be overtaken in the dubious category, as Jaren Jackson Jr. is the closest player to Tate, racking up 268 fouls this year.