The NBA regular season is winding down over the next few weeks, and that means some exciting battles for playoff seeding. Many of those don’t concern us as Syracuse Orange fans, but some of them do. There are several former SU players in the thick of the NBA Playoff races.
Carmelo Anthony is not one of them, so let’s just get the obligatory mention of the New York Knicks’ mess out of the way and move on...
Elswhere, however, there’s some exciting basketball ahead for the Orange in the NBA:
Michael Carter-Williams, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are just a half-game back of the final spot in the Eastern Conference right now, which should make for an interesting stretch of games here as the team tries to make the playoffs without Dwayne Wade. MCW’s averaged a modest 7.4 points and 2.5 assists per game, but those numbers will need to go up if he’s going to help replace Wade’s production.
Rakeem Christmas, Indiana Pacers
Despite a spot deep on the bench for much of his Pacers’ career, Christmas did get a recent opportunity to contribute more and appeared to shine. In games where he’s played at least 10 minutes, the former SU forward has scored five points or pulled down five boards all but once. He had seven rebounds in a recent win over Miami, and 10 points in a surprising victory over the Rockets. His minutes have dipped of late, but he’s still valuable depth off the bench for a Pacers team locked in a three-way tie for fifth in the East.
Michael Gbinije, Detroit Pistons
Gbinije’s battled injuries this year, and hasn’t suited up in awhile as he’s been day-to-day nursing an ankle issue while also shuttling back and forth to the D-League. He’s averaged less than a point per game in limited minutes, but with Detroit just a game back of eighth place, any time he gets on the court now will be critical for him and the Pistons.
Jerami Grant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Grant’s numbers are down this year as the trade from Philadelphia to OKC has relegated him to more of a rotational role, but he’s still averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. February seemed to be a great month for him, with some double-digit scoring efforts vs. the Knicks and Bulls. Since then, however, his minutes have plummeted and he’s scored five or more just twice. Still, bench depth is key for the Thunder as they hang onto the sixth seed and try to avoid dropping into a matchup with the Warriors or Spurs.
Wesley Johnson, Los Angeles Clippers
Wes had carved out a solid niche as a three-and-D guy in recent years, but injury troubles and shooting woes have led to career-low numbers from the former Orange star this year. Johnson’s averaging just 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game for the Clippers. The team’s once-lauded bench has taken some heat as the team’s struggled. But they’re still in fifth place in the West. If that bench is going to come alive again, Wes and his cohorts will need to step up.
Chris McCullough, Washington Wizards
Since coming over from the Nets, McCullough’s played just two minutes for the Wizards, and it would appear he’s unlikely to crack the rotation for the contending team. Washington’s just 2.5 games back of first in the East, and remains in a fight each game out there. They have a veteran core and a ton of experience higher up on the depth chart. That makes them unlikely to work on McCullough’s development right now, unfortunately.
Dion Waiters, Miami Heat
Waiters has found himself injured a couple times this season, but as the Heat have discovered, he’s truly the engine that keeps this thing going. His current ankle injury has no timetable, which creates some doubts about whether he can come back this regular season. But if Miami’s going to make the playoffs (they’re hanging onto the eighth seed now), they’ll probably need his 15.8 points per game and the spark he’s provided all season. The Heat are 1-3 without him over the last four games.
Obviously Carmelo, Tyler Ennis and Malachi Richardson are also in the league this year. But their teams are out of the playoff mix.
What do you want to see from the players above as they push toward the playoffs? And do any of their teams have a shot to take down the Cavaliers, Warriors or Spurs?