UConn in the NBA: Former Huskies battling for playoff spots

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Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges (0) hugs guard Kemba Walker (15) late in the fourth quarter of a win over the Detroit Pistons in an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

The 2018-2019 NBA campaign is winding down, and multiple former UConn Huskies are on teams that have already locked up their playoff positioning. However, some of the most notable alumni are fighting for that eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games left to play.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets:

The Hornets’ playoff chances are still alive, and the former UConn All-American is one of the main reasons why. After a three-game losing streak on the West Coast, it looked like the Hornets would be missing the playoffs for the third straight season, but fortunately for them, the Detroit Pistons haven’t been playing their best basketball lately. Charlotte has won their last three games while Detroit has lost their last four, so currently only one game separates the two teams.

Walker has played extremely well over those three games, scoring 32, 29 and 31 points. The biggest game came on Sunday, when they beat the Pistons 104-91 to keep their playoff hopes alive. Walker shot just 11-for-29 in the game, but he led all scorers with his 31 points while also grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Walker will have to continue playing at this high level for the final two games in order for the Hornets to make the playoffs.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons:

As previously mentioned, the Pistons have been struggling lately, losing seven of their last nine games, and are now in danger of losing their playoff spot. Drummond has been doing his part though. With the exception of the loss to the Thunder last week, in which he had a clear off game (four points, nine rebounds), Drummond has put up a double-double in each of those nine games. In fact, Drummond has double-doubles in 12 of his last 13 games. He leads the league in rebounding with 15.5 per game and is one of the last true big men in the league. If the Pistons hope to hold onto that No. 8 seed, Drummond may have to step up his game even more and put up a couple of his famous 20-20 games.

Jeremy Lamb, Charlotte Hornets:

Lamb is the other half of the backcourt of UConn alumni for the Hornets, and while he is not as prolific of a scorer as Kemba, he is still very important to the team’s success. In the Hornets’ huge win over the No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors, Lamb scored 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting. This year, Lamb is having the best year of his career by far, setting career highs in points, rebounds and steals. Charlotte is Kemba Walker’s team, and the team is completely reliant on him for success. But make no mistake: The Hornets are much better when Lamb is playing well too. They will certainly need him to step up if they do get that playoff spot and have to take on the top-seeded Bucks in the first round.

Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs:

Gay is the longest tenured former Husky in the NBA, and he is having a solid season this year, averaging almost 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game. He is also shooting the ball at a higher percentage than any other year of his career at 50.8 percent overall and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. The Spurs have secured their spot in the playoffs and will be either the sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the West. Gay hasn’t played exceptionally well as of late, with only one double-digit points game since April started. However, that one game was very good as he put up 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, exemplifying his offensive efficiency thay has defined his season. Gay may not be the go-to guy on the Spurs with the likes of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge on the team, but he is definitely a key reason why they are heading to the playoffs for the 22nd year in a row.

Shabazz Napier, Brooklyn Nets:

Napier will be going to the playoffs for the third time in his career, but this time he is on the Nets, a team that hasn’t even sniffed the playoffs since the 2014-2015 season. This year, when given the opportunity to play, Napier has done well, but that hasn’t been very often. He is buried in the depth chart behind D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, both of whom average over 28 minutes per game. Napier averages just 17 minutes, and he hasn’t even played in a game since March 28, when he played just 11 minutes against the 76ers. Even with limited playing time, Napier has still managed to put up the highest scoring season of his career this year with 9.3 points per game, but he more than likely will not see the floor much in the playoffs unless one of the two aforementioned players goes down with an injury.


Danny Barletta is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.barletta@uconn.edu.

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