Most of the attention of those around the Buckeye State on Saturday was on Ohio State’s spring game. Now that the annual exhibition has passed, we can focus on games that actually matter and count.
Following the “play-in tournament” this week, the NBA playoffs kicked off on Saturday. There are three former Buckeyes on the rosters of teams in this year’s playoffs. Two of those Ohio State alums were on the court during this week during the “play-in tournament”, with one of those games featuring a couple of the best guards in Ohio State history going head-to-head.
Mike Conley - Minnesota Timberwolves
After being traded by the Utah Jazz before the NBA’s trade deadline, Mike Conley played a big role in Minnesota earning a spot in the playoffs for the second year in a row. Even though the Timberwolves will meet top-seeded Denver in the first round of the playoffs, it definitely wasn’t easy for Conley and company.
Minnesota took on the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, with the winner earning the seventh-seed in the Western Conference. The former Ohio State point guard had a great game, hitting six three-pointers and finishing with 23 points, which was just a point behind Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored a team-high 24 points. Unfortunately, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers were a little too much, as Los Angeles won 108-102 in overtime to secure their spot in the playoffs.
The loss meant that Minnesota would return home to host the Oklahoma City Thunder, who beat New Orleans on Wednesday night. The Timberwolves received a boost with the return of Rudy Gobert, who was suspended for Tuesday’s game after an altercation during the regular season finale with teammate Kyle Anderson. Towns, Gobert, and Anthony Edwards were too much for the Thunder to handle, with Minnesota routing Oklahoma City 120-95. Conley finished with 14 points and was a +24 when he was on the court.
Now Minnesota will take on the Denver Nuggets in the best-of-seven first round series. The teams split their four meetings this year, but none of those meetings came with Conley on the roster. Conley did square off with the Nuggets twice this year, with both meetings coming before November. In the first game of the season, Conley scored 13 points and dished out eight assists in a 123-102. Less than two weeks later, Conley notched 14 points and was credited with five assists, but Denver was able to top Utah 117-101.
D’Angelo Russell - Los Angeles Lakers
While Mike Conley had a strong game for Minnesota on Tuesday night, D’Angelo Russell struggled against his former team. Russell was just 1-9 from the field, scoring two points. Even though his shots weren’t falling, Russell stayed involved in the offense, handing out eight assists in Los Angeles’ 108-102 victory in overtime.
Russell will now try and regain the form that he showed in the final three games of the regular season, when he was 21-40 from the field and 11-23 from three-point range. With their win on Tuesday night, Los Angeles clinched their spot in the playoffs, with their first game being this afternoon against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Lakers won the season series 2-1, but this series will be different from what we saw during the regular season since LeBron James and Ja Morant missed the final meeting between the teams in the regular season early last month. James also missed a February matchup between the teams, and Anthony Davis was out in January when the teams first matched up.
The Grizzlies will be a familiar matchup for Russell, who battled Memphis last year in the first round of the playoffs when he was still with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Russell also saw the Grizzlies three times this season before he was traded to Los Angeles. The best performance against Memphis for Russell came in late January when he scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and registered seven assists in a 111-100 win over the Grizzlies.
Duane Washington Jr. - New York Knicks
Even though Duane Washington Jr. is still on New York’s playoff roster, it will likely take a miracle for the former Buckeye to see the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Washington signed a two-way contract with the Knicks on the final day of February, but he has yet to appear in a game with New York since signing with the team.
If Washington has been unable to get on the court with the Knicks as the season wound down and the team played in a few meaningless games, it’s hard to imagine the guard getting on the court when the pressure is ratcheted up in the playoffs.
It is unfortunate Washington likely won’t see any playing time in the series since the Knicks will be playing at least two games in Ohio. If only Washington had a bigger role with New York, as it would have been interesting to see how Cavaliers and Ohio State fans would react to Washington making some plays in the series.