Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul descended upon the Barclay’s Center — where Marek Dolezaj famously dropped 20 points on Wake Forest — to watch Dion Waiters’s final game of the season... sort of.
It also happened to be the last hurrah of Dwyane Wade’s career. He swapped jerseys with Anthony, who doesn’t quite have one right now (though these swaps were incredible). The crowd chanted “Paul Pierce sucks,” when Brooklyn truly let him go too soon. Waiters received eight minutes, allowing Wade to shoot 13 threes as a starter. Needless to say, Miami is not going to the playoffs this year, falling just a little short despite being in position just weeks ago.
The Heat played 2-3 zone late in the year. Kelly Olynyk filled key defensive rotations in it on the wing, to the tune of a 3-6 finish. Waiters shot nearly 40% from three, with a hair under 19 points per game, through that stretch. He ultimately took a back seat on Wade’s farewell, triple-double night, though the Heat didn’t help themselves. They would’ve lost every potential tie-breaker scenario for the eight seed on the final day of the season. Erik Spoelstra’s game-plan would’ve been interesting if the playoffs were on the line.
It’s tough times for Syracuse in the NBA. Though there’s still two series worth watching this weekend.
Michael Carter-Williams and the Magic will take Miami’s place, representing Florida in the playoffs for the first time since the Dwight Howard days in 2012. ESPN’s commentators couldn’t remember their last trip to Amway Center on Wednesday’s telecast. They’ll face the Toronto Raptors, after sealing a 42-win season with a national TV win over the Charlotte Hornets. Despite Kemba Walker’s 43 points in his potential finale with the Hornets, the Magic out-scored Charlotte by 18 points with Carter-Williams on the floor.
MCW’s return after nearly falling out of the NBA centered on the perfect situation. The Magic lacked guard play outside of DJ Augustin, so Carter-Williams rapidly ascended from 10-day contract add-on to backup point guard. Orlando boasts plenty of spacing between Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Augustin, which pulls some pressure from MCW, and his role alongside fireball scorer Terrence Ross off the bench gives him an easy outlet in the passing game.
Since signing Carter-Williams, the Magic won 10 of 12 games to close the year and outscored their opponents with him on the floor in seven of those games. His four rebounds and assists per game help Orlando, but they’ll need more than percentages a hair above 31% FG and 16% 3-pt against a Toronto team that many would consider NBA Finals favorites.
Kawhi Leonard’s win shares per 48 minutes in the NBA Playoffs only trail Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Even if Carter-Williams will play only four or five games, it’ll be a massive stage for him to show other teams he can maximize short spurts of play.
Jerami Grant’s Thunder narrowly avoided the Houston Rockets in a maddening shuffle of Western Conference seeding on the final day of the regular season. The Trailblazers’ massive second-half comeback in Game No. 82 sets them up to host Oklahoma City in round one. Grant’s rim-running, defense and elevation at the four for the Thunder’s sensational defensive unit makes him the best Syracuse product playing in the NBA today.
In the hole left by Melo, Grant posted 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 79 games. He fit into the Thunder’s defense far better, a given, and even shot 39% from three all season and 42% over his final 10 games. He dropped 28 points on the Bucks to cap the regular season with four bombs from deep.
OKC won 49 games in one of the NBA’s deepest conference races in recent memory. They slid from the top to the bottom-end of the standings on a swoon, losing seven out of nine before a five-game winning streak to salvage the end of the year.
Russell Westbrook is playing as enigmatically as ever, an unfathomable third straight season averaging a triple-double in the books, 40% shooting in their nine-game lull and a minus-20 rating against a dreadful Memphis team. Then he averaged a triple-double in the final five games. It’s worth watching (maybe he can coach UCLA too).
Tyler Lydon got activated for the Denver Nuggets following the conclusion of the G-League season. He’ll watch Denver’s ride as the two-seed in the West, beginning against the San Antonio Spurs. Then he’ll become a free agent this summer along with Malachi Richardson, cut by Philadelphia in February, after both had their team options declined.
Wesley Johnson wrapped up his season after a mid-year trade from New Orleans to Washington did little for his production. He scored 3.7 points per game with the Wizards, who missed the postseason with 32 wins.
That rounds out Syracuse’s presence in the NBA today. After a season where the Orange didn’t send a player to the league, Tyus Battle — and possibly Oshae Brissett — aim to shake up the recent, rocky trend of SU players leaping to the league. Battle just signed to Roc Nation, per Adam Zagoria, the agency that represented Michael Gbinije — now of the Santa Cruz Warriors.
The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday. That schedule is here, though to skip that, MCW sees his first action against Toronto at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN. Grant and OKC will suit up on Sunday against Portland at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. While Lydon won’t really see the court for Denver, the Nuggets host the Spurs on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.