The NBA regular season came to a close last night, which means we’re headed for the playoffs. “We” is a debatable term, since chances are there are a lot of Knicks, Nets and 76ers fans among us, and those teams are very much staying home. The Syracuse Orange’s most notable current NBA alum, Carmelo Anthony, also plays for the ‘Bockers and well... who knows how much longer that situation’s going to exist.
But some other former Orange players were able to extend their seasons, at least by a week or so, by making the playoffs. Which players can you watch, and where can you watch them until they inevitably lose to the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers?
Michael Carter-Williams, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls barely made it in, but they are in the playoffs, and will take on the top-seeded Boston Celtics starting Sunday. Guard-play is a strength for the Celtics this season, but we’ll see how much of an advantage that gives them against the Bulls -- who have a reasonably talented and very deep backcourt of their own. One of those players is Carter-Williams, though his minutes have dipped considerably since Dwyane Wade’s return from injury. Still, bench scoring (even something small like MCW’s six or seven points per game) can make the difference in a playoff series.
Rakeem Christmas, Indiana Pacers
Indiana’s another team that barely snuck in (a five-game winning streak certainly helped at the end of the year), but now that they’ve made the playoffs, they have the daunting task of facing the Cavs. Whether or not Christmas is actually involved in trying to beat Cleveland remains to be seen, however. Since the start of April, he’s logged just two minutes and scored one point. The Pacers have their work cut out for them in this series (which begins on Saturday). Hopefully Christmas gets at least a few minutes of playoff basketball on his resume.
Jerami Grant, Oklahoma City Thunder
After being minimally used in March, Grant has bounced back a bit in April, averaging over six points in 19 minutes per game (six games) during the month. His team, OKC, will be up against the speedy Houston Rockets, which could either help or hurt Grant’s chances of serious court time in the matchup. On the one hand, his athleticism helps and could make it tougher for the smaller Rockets to penetrate the lane. On the other, Grant’s not a great defender and his size could be a disadvantage against a perimeter-shooting team. The Thunder and Rockets tip off on Sunday.
Wesley Johnson, Los Angeles Clippers
As mentioned previously, this has been a rough season for Wes, whose seen both his minutes and production crater as the Clippers have struggled with cohesion. After missing six of seven games from late March to early April, Johnson returned to action against San Antonio last week, but was 0-for-3 from the floor while recording three rebounds. He hasn’t scored more than two points in a game since a five-point performance against the Nuggets on March 16. If the Clips are going to get pass the Utah Jazz in round one, they’ll need more from him. That series begins on Saturday.
Chris McCullough, Washington Wizards
McCullough’s seen just nine minutes on the court since arriving in Washington, so don’t expect him to see much if any time in the playoffs this year. Still, his Wizards earn a challenging first-round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, creating what may be the most interesting early series of the playoffs. The Wiz are definitively in win-now mode, so anything less than a second-round appearance would be a disappointment here. We’ll see if they’re up for beating the Hawks starting Sunday.
The Clippers are the only one of these teams favored in their series, so it’s possible that there are very few (if any) Syracuse alums left in a couple weeks. Still, hopefully you tune in to watch at least a few minutes of basketball this spring and root on the former Orange standouts. It’s your last glimpse of meaningful (American) hoops until November, after all.