Now that the playoffs are well underway and every team has played at least two games of their seven-game series, it’s time to give everyone an update on how our favorite former Wildcats are performing. I’ll be doing these updates every 4-5 days instead of the normal daily recaps so that I can really dive into what I’ve seen and hopefully offer a better overview of individual players and teams. With that being said, let’s get right into it.
(8) Washington Wizards vs. (1) Toronto Raptors: TOR leads 2-0
First, we’ll start with John Wall and the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference. Just a heads up, this series recap isn’t going to be filled with mostly positive words. The Wizards find themselves down 0-2 against the Toronto Raptors with the series heading to Washington for games 3 and 4. The Raptors, who have been infamous for impressive playoff collapses, have so far rid themselves of that title. Their Game 1 win over the Wizards was their first Game 1 win in any playoff series in TEN TRIES, going back nearly 17 seasons. The craziest part is they’ve been the higher seed in practically all of them over the last few seasons. This year they finally broke that trend and the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has looked much better than in past postseasons.
Unfortunately, this is coming against John Wall and the Wizards, who are… struggling. They’ve been struggling for months now, it seems. They looked completely lost in the weeks leading up to Wall’s return from injury and even after he returned, the confusion on a play-to-play basis was concerning. Now two games into the playoffs, those concerns are even more drastic.
Individually, Wall isn’t playing bad by any means. He’s averaging 26 points and 12 assists per game (along with 4.5 turnovers on only 40.5 percent shooting from the field) and most impressively, he shot 3-5 from deep in game 1. What’s been most surprising from Wall is that he’s struggled mightily to make shots at the rim. In game 1 especially, Wall missed several shots right at the rim that he normally makes. By the time the fourth quarter of Game 1 rolled in, Wall – along with the rest of the Wizards – were completely gassed and settling for jumpers. Their lack of a bench (it really doesn’t help that Jodie Meeks is suspended) against Toronto, who has one of the deepest and dangerous benches in the entire NBA, was ultimately their downfall. In Game 2, the Wizards gave up 44 points in the first quarter and could never recover. That game was over after the 12 minutes.
For the Wizards to come back, they need more from, well, basically everyone. Bradley Beal was a non-factor in Game 2. Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. have yet to find a rhythm. Marcin Gortat is being eaten alive by the Raptors deep frontcourt. And, once again, the bench has been invisible. Wall has honestly played worse than his stats indicate, but the team’s poor play has by no means been his fault. Hope is not all lost, however. Toronto could easily deteriorate as we’ve seen countless times before and the series is heading home to Washington. If the Wizards can win one, if not both, home games, we’ll have a series again. This is a backcourt heavy series, and it will only take one game of Wall/Beal outperforming Lowry/DeRozan for things to get interesting. Let’s see if they can make it happen.
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers: Tied 1-1
Alex Poythress is the only former Kentucky player in this series, but he’s yet to see the floor for the Indiana Pacers. Unless the Pacers are blowing the Cavaliers out by 30-plus points in the fourth quarter or vice versa, I don’t think he’ll be seeing any minutes. Even still, if you haven’t watched any games from the series, I would advise you do so. Soak in everything that is great about LeBron James. Watch Victor Oladipo be amazing. This is entertaining basketball to watch.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat: Tied 1-1
Only Bam Adebayo is featured in the series as a former Kentucky player and he’s been seeing a solid amount of minutes for his first run in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the jitters of being in the playoffs as a 20-year old rookie seem to be affecting him. He’s played in 30 minutes so far but has only registered six points, all of them coming in Game 1. The series overall has been odd, as the Sixers completely outshot the Heat in Game 1 only for the script to flip in Game 2. Philly shot 18-28 from three in Game 1, but only 7-36 in Game 2. There are obviously other factors that contributed to the two games, but the main reason Philly won Game 1 and lost Game 2 is because of outside shooting.
Now back to Bam. He’s been stealing minutes from Hassan Whiteside and hasn’t had to deal with trying to defend Joel Embiid because of his injury, but he just doesn’t look comfortable or confident in his game. He’s not attacking rebounds or diving to the rim like he was in the regular season. His lack of outside shooting has really hurt his ability to stay on the court for an extended amount of time and he’s struggled to guard Philly’s many stretch fours. This is the same reason why Kelly Olynyk has been the best frontcourt player for Miami because he can defend the perimeter better than Bam and has a much better shooting stroke. In terms of matchups, this is not a favorable series for Bam and it’s been obvious as to why.
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks: BOS leads 2-0
I’ll try to make this one quick. The Milwaukee Bucks are bad. Like, really bad. They have no offensive flow or rhythm and are struggling to defend a team filled with players in their early 20s and little to no playoff experience (them and Al Horford, who has been great in this series so far). Eric Bledsoe, the lone Kentucky player in this series, has been thoroughly outperformed by Boston guard Terry Rozier. Bledsoe is averaging 10.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds through two games while shooting an abysmal 36 percent from the field. He looks uninvolved on both sides of the floor and he’s paying for it. Then there was the whole “I don’t even know the [email protected]#k that is” comment directed towards Rozier which made everyone collectively roll their eyes at the exact same time. The Bucks just have no formula to win right now and they’re being hilariously outcoached. Bledsoe has to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball for the rest of this series if the Bucks even want a chance of making it to a Game 5. Either that or Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to have to start averaging 50 points.
Now let’s head out West where things have been a little bit more positive (well, at least in one series).
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves: HOU leads 2-0
This was supposed to be the coming out series for Karl-Anthony Towns. So far, it has been anything but. He helped will his team to the franchise’s first playoff spot in 14 seasons with a healthy Jimmy Butler back in the centerfold for the playoffs. Two games in and down 0-2, Towns has been robbed of his well-deserved shine. Robbed by his own coach, to be specific. Towns has scored only 13 points through the first two games. THIRTEEN. That’s it. He averaged over 21 per game for the entire season but hasn’t scored more than 10 points in either playoff game. The reason? The Wolves aren’t feeding him the ball. Ever. He’s 5-18 from the field in the series and his usage rate is at 16.1 percent compared to 22.9 during the regular season. The Wolves have elected to run a backcourt heavy offense that includes a lot of sets for Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford attacking the basket. Now in 2012, this would be a deadly approach, but not so much now. The Wolves sure have found shots for Andrew Wiggins, though, who is shooting only 13-29 through two games. The Wolves have not been getting KAT involved like they should and have been for the majority of the season and it’s costing them games. Until head coach Tom Thibodeau feeds him more consistently, this series will be over quickly, even with the next two games heading to Minnesota.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz: Tied 1-1
The two Kentucky players in this series, Patrick Patterson and Dakari Johnson, have been nonfactors so far in this series. With Johnson, it’s expected, considering he’s in the same boat as Alex Poythress in Indiana, but Patterson’s lack of bench scoring is not helping his Thunder team. Granted, he’s only played a total of 17 minutes in the series but he has yet to score and has only one shot attempt. Going into this series, Patterson isn’t someone the Thunder needed to score 10 points per game, but it sure would help when Carmelo Anthony is playing as poorly as he is right now. The Thunder will go as far as Russell Westbrook and Paul George will take them but it would be nice to see Patterson receive more minutes – especially in the first quarter – to help establish a rhythm. The Thunder don’t go very deep and their lack of inclusion with Patterson is somewhat confusing, but it is the playoffs and rotations are much tighter now than in the regular season. Hopefully, we can see more from him in games 3 and 4.
(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans: NOP leads 2-0
What a series this has been so far. The Pelicans play such an exciting and fast-paced style of basketball that has made this series a constant thrill ride. Anthony Davis has been incredible. Rajon Rondo is in peak #PlayoffRondo form and somehow the Pelicans have a two-game lead on the higher seed with the series heading to their home court. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but it’s been something amazing to watch. It starts with Davis, who is averaging 28.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks through two games. He’s continuing to play at an MVP level, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and decimating the Blazers frontcourt on both sides of the ball. Some of the lobs he’s been throwing down are otherworldly and Rondo has been setting him up perfectly.
Speaking of Rondo, he’s averaging 11 points and 13 assists through two games and hit a huge corner three late in Game 2 to secure the win for the Pelicans. He’s playing some of his best basketball of the season right now and he’s been a huge reason the Pelicans are up 2-0. His backcourt partner, Jrue Holiday, deserves a shoutout, too. Holiday has been the best two-way player on any playoff team through the first two games and is showing everyone why he deserves to be first team All-Defense.
Darius Miller made little impact on Game 1 but had a much better outing in Game 2. After going 0-1 in Game 1, where he looked like a deer in headlights, he scored eight points in Game 2 on 3-4 shooting, including 2-2 from deep. He looked nervous in Game 1 but settled down in Game 2 while hitting a couple big shots. This is Miller’s first playoff series in the NBA, so it’s understandable why he looked so anxious early on, but we know that he’s capable of getting big-time buckets in important games. With the series heading back to New Orleans and a 2-0 Pelicans lead, I would expect Miller to come out looking to shoot in Game 3.
Lastly, for this series, DeAndre Liggins has yet to see any floor time and it would be surprising if he does in the future. Liggins has provided serviceable minutes in the games he has played this season, but the Pelicans have a rotation set that doesn’t appear to include him.
Game 3 on Thursday night should be all kinds of fun.
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs: GSW lead 2-0
No Steph. No problem. The Warriors have been without Steph Curry for this series but no Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs has all but shut the doors on any dreams they had of making this a serious series. There are also no former Wildcats in this matchup. To make matters worse, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich lost his wife of four decades on Wednesday after a long battle with a respiratory illness. He understandably won’t be coaching the game on Thursday and overall it’s a heartbreaking story. Popovich is an extraordinary person and coach who I – and everyone in the NBA world – hold the utmost respect for.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more playoff coverage: @ZackGeoghegan