UConn in the NBA: Huskies in the playoff hunt

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Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) passes around Indiana Pacers guard Cory Joseph (6) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

With just a quarter of the season remaining in the NBA, several former Huskies find themselves fighting for a playoff spot. The Nets, Pistons and Hornets sit in sixth, seventh and eighth respectively in the Eastern Conference while the Spurs are fighting for the No. 8 seed in the more challenging West. Today, we’ll find out who has what it takes to make that final push and earn their place in NBA postseason action.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets:

Walker and the Hornets currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference but are only three games out of sixth place. They have lost back to back tough ones against the resurgent Nets (seriously, who do they think they are?) and the ever-dominant Warriors, but their schedule does not get much easier from there. Walker is going to need to step up big time and remind us what made him such a highly touted prospect coming into the league. He’s been showing signs of life since the All-Star break, averaging 27 points, seven assists and three rebounds in the three games they’ve played, but he’s done it inefficiently. Walker put up those numbers on 39 percent shooting from the field and 32 percent from beyond the arc, percentages that will certainly have to improve if he wants to lead his team to their first playoff appearance in three years.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons:

Drummond and the Pistons are in a similar situation to the Hornets, sitting just 1.5 games ahead of them in seventh place in the East. However, they earned that spot by being one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, having won seven of their last eight games including a 3-0 sweep this week. The Pistons remaining schedule is a bit easier than that of the Hornets. Detroit gets to face the bottom-tier Bulls and Cavaliers two more times this season, but that alone isn’t going to guarantee them anything. Drummond is averaging a career-high in points (17.6), his 3.5 combined steals and blocks is the best mark of his career, and his 53.2 shooting percentage is his highest since the 2013-2014 season. Drummond is going to need to keep up his career-high stats if he wants to lead this Pistons team to the playoffs for the second time in his career.

Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs:

The Spurs are struggling. Big time. They are currently eighth in the West, have lost three straight including a 12-point loss to the Knicks (oof) and are currently at risk of having their 21-consecutive playoff-appearance streak snapped. This poor stretch can be directly correlated to Rudy Gay’s move to the bench this week. Gay was averaging over 27 minutes per game going into All-Star Weekend and the Spurs sat in sixth in the West. But since returning from the break, Gay was moved to the bench and saw his minutes decrease to 23 per game. In those minutes he has still been fairly productive, averaging 12 points and six rebounds on 48 percent shooting, but he has not been given enough opportunity to impact the game like he was earlier in the year. If the Spurs want to turn their season around and keep their playoff streak alive, it has to involve more time for Gay to use his veteran leadership and experience.

Shabazz Napier, Brooklyn Nets:

The Nets have been shockingly successful this year. They are currently sixth in the East and are looking like a legitimate team for years to come, but Napier has played a minimal role in that success. Earlier in the year he was able to bring some much-needed energy onto the court whenever his number was called, but those types of games have been few and far in between recently for the UConn grad. He had an impressive seven-point, 10-assist game against the Trailblazers earlier in the week, but those numbers alone are more impressive than his averages of seven points, four assists, and one rebound on a horrific 28 percent shooting since the All-Star break. Up to now the Nets have been able to win games without him, but they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league with multiple games against the top-ranked Bucks and are going to need all the help they can get if they want to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Jeremy Lamb, Charlotte Hornets:

Lamb’s numbers won’t blow you away but his impact on the court is incredibly valuable in the Hornet’s playoff aspirations. While he has struggled a bit on the offensive end, averaging only 12 points per game since the break compared to his season average 15, Lamb has surprisingly picked it up on the defensive end. He’s racked up four steals twice since returning from the All-Star Break, bringing his season average to a career-high 1.1 per game, and has remained strong on the glass, averaging over four rebounds per game. If Lamb can continue to make an impact on the defensive end, his offense is sure to turn around and he will help Walker get his team to the playoffs.


Conner Gilson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at conner.gilson@uconn.edu.  

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