Eight Mountain West alumni have made it into the 2020 NBA Playoffs
The two weeks since the NBA restart have flown by and the regular season has now ended. Here are the teams with Mountain West alumni that have officially made it into the 2020 NBA Playoffs, and a team that is still fighting for a spot.
Memphis Grizzlies – Brandon Clarke (SJSU 2015–2017)
No. 9 seed in the West
Overall Record: 34-39 Bubble: 2-6
Play-in Game 1: Saturday 2:30pm ET
(Memphis was knocked out vs. Portland, 126-122. Clarke had 20 points four rebounds and three assists.)
The play-in, first in NBA history, has been activated and Memphis must battle it out with the Portland Blazers this weekend to secure the final playoff spot in the West. The first, and potentially only, game is on Saturday. If the Blazers win, the Grizzlies will be eliminated. If the Grizzlies win, there will be another game on Sunday.
Brandon Clarke is one of the promising young players for the Grizzlies. Clarke might be overshadowed by the Rookie of the Year finalist Ja Morant, but the former SJSU player’s efficiency and shooting percentage speak for themselves. Clarke finished the regular season at 61.8% from the field, which is slightly better than the NBA rookie shooting record by Steve Johnson at 61.34% through the 1981-81 season.
The last time the Grizzlies and the Blazers faced each other was on July 31 with Portland winning in overtime 140-135. Memphis’ leading scorer was Jaren Jackson Jr with 33 points. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies won’t count with him this time as he suffered a torn meniscus and was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Their task won’t get any easier as they have to get through Damian Lillard who has been averaging 37.6 points and 9.6 assists since the restart. He recorded a total of 154 points in the last three games.
If the Grizzlies pull off two victories, they will take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 18.
Los Angeles Lakers – JaVale McGee (Nevada 2006–08)
No. 1 seed in the West
Overall Record: 52-19 Bubble: 3-5
Game 1: Aug. 18 9pm ET vs Memphis/Portland
The Lakers clinched the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference on Aug. 4, the first time since the 2019-10 season.
The Lakers haven’t been at their best since the restart, but they’ll have to step it up if they’re serious about getting their 17th NBA championship. Anthony Davis and LeBron James lead the team with an average of 26.1 and 25.3 points per game, respectively. The superstar duo hasn’t been performing as expected, so the team has relied on other players like Kyle Kuzma to step up.
Javale McGee, a 7’0 center, is one of the Lakers who has seen the most games this season. He has made 68 appearances, all as a starter.
Head coach Frank Vogel announced that the team is bringing reinforcements. Rajon Rondo, who injured his thumb and had surgery in July, has entered the bubble and is doing the required quarantine.
Los Angeles Clippers – Paul George (Fresno State 2008-10), Kawhi Leonard (SDSU 2009-11)
No. 2 seed in the East
Overall Record: 49-23 Bubble: 5-3
Game 1: Aug. 17 9pm ET vs Mavericks
The Clippers will face the Dallas Mavericks in a playoff game for the first time in NBA history.
The Mavericks count on the young, but talented, duo of Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis. The Clippers top two players, who happen to be alumni of Mountain West schools, have a lot more experience. Kawhi Leonard is a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP. Paul George is a six-time NBA All-Star. Meanwhile, this will be Dončić’ and Porzingis’ playoff debuts.
Leonard and George are averaging 27.1 and 21.5 points respectively. The third highest scorer on the stat sheet is Montrezl Harrell, who was not in the bubble due to family matters and hasn’t played an NBA game since March 10. Harrell, a 6th man of the year finalist, has made it into the bubble and is expected to clear quarantine in time for the first playoff game.
Miami Heat – Derrick Jones (UNLV 2015–16)
No. 5 seed in the East
Overall Record: 44-29 Bubble: 3-5
Game 1: Aug. 18 6:30pm ET vs Indiana
The Heat Clinch No. 5 Seed in Eastern Conference after a loss to the Pacers on Friday. The Pacers locked in the No. 4 seed, and the two teams will face each other again for the first round of the playoffs.
Miami is led by Jimmy Butler who is averaging 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game. The Heat have been have struck by injuries lately, which have given them mixed results in the bubble. Recent headlines were about Derrick Jones Jr.
Jones Jr. has been dealing with a knee injury but was cleared to play on Friday. He played against the Pacers but had to be carried off the court on a stretcher in the third quarter after a hard collision. It appeared serious but the team announced later that evening that he had suffered a neck strain and would be re-evaluated again over the weekend.
Toronto Raptors – Paul Watson (Fresno State 2013-17), Patrick McCaw UNLV (2014–16)
No. 2 seed in the East
Overall Record: 53-19 Bubble: 7-1
Game 1: Aug. 17 4pm ET vs Brooklyn
The Raptors are the defending NBA champions and this year’s No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The canadian team has talent. Six players are scoring in double digits, with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at the top of the stat sheet with 22.9ppg, 19.4ppg and 17.6ppg respectively. But there are also other members of the team who can contribute.
Paul Watson trained with player development coach Rico Hines, who has worked with Siakam, last offseason. Watson was a standout at Toronto’s G-League affiliate before signing a two-way deal with the Raptors in January. He showed his worth on Friday when Toronto defeated the Denver Nuggets 117-109 and he helped with 22 points. That performance earned Watson and Fresno a shoutout on ESPN.
The team has another former Mountain West player, Patrick McCaw as a reserve forward, but he left the bubble earlier this month to receive treatment for a benign mass on the back of his left knee.
Brooklyn Nets – Tyler Johnson (Fresno State 2010-14)
No. 7 seed in the East
Overall Record: 35-37 Bubble: 5-3
Game 1: Aug. 17 4pm ET vs Raptors
The Nets would be a more intimidating team if they weren’t missing big-name players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, as well as shot creator Spencer Dinwiddie. However, Caris LeVert has managed to carry the team with an average of 18.7 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Tyler Johnson, previously with the Phoenix Suns, signed with the team late June. He makes a good pair with Chris Chiozza and has already shown what he can give the Nets. He scored 21 points during a 129-120 win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Aug. 9. After the game, LeVert had a lot of good things to say about his new teammate.
“Tyler’s been huge for us…His basketball IQ is very high,” LeVert said. “He’s huge for us, knocking down shots, being in the right spot defensively and just knowing what to do.”
Orlando Magic – Khem Birch (UNLV 2012-14)
No. 8 seed in the East
Overall Record: 33-40 Bubble: 3-5
Game 1: Aug. 18 1:30pm ET vs Milwaukee
Orlando’s depth has been stretched thin several times during this season, so even making it into the playoffs is an accomplishment.
Mo Bamba, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on June 11, left the NBA bubble for a “comprehensive post-Coronavirus evaluation,” the team announced Friday. Bamba had been splitting time with Khem Birch as backup center for Nikola Vucevic throughout the season. Birch was seeing more time during the restart. He has has appeared in 48 games this season, starting in 24 of those, while averaging 19.2 minutes per game.
The Magic finished the regular season with a win against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans had already been eliminated and were resting all of their starters during that game, but the Magic still had a good performance.
The team shot at 73% from beyond the arc during the first half, hitting 13 out of 18 attempts. Eight different players contributed to this. By the end of the game the team had finished 15-of-28 in three pointers. This stat was a big deal for Orlando since the team had been struggling in this category.