Twenty teams are still chasing an NBA championship, but eight face a longer, winding road.
Those eight are in the play-in tournament and that’s where former Gonzaga standouts – Rui Hachimura (Washington), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana) and Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie (Memphis) – face long odds of making a prolonged playoff run.
The play-in round, which debuted in the NBA bubble last season in Orlando, will lock in the last four seeds – two from the Eastern Conference and two from the Western.
Hachimura and the Wizards can secure the seventh seed in the East with a win over Boston on Tuesday. The reward is a series against second-seeded Brooklyn.
Sabonis and the Pacers face Charlotte in a loser-out contest Tuesday. The winner takes on the Washington-Boston loser on Thursday with the victor claiming the eighth seed and a date with No. 1 Philadelphia.
Memphis needs a pair of wins to become the West’s eighth seed. The Grizzlies meet San Antonio on Wednesday in a loser-out matchup. The winner tangles with the Los Angeles Lakers-Golden State loser on Friday with the winner moving on to face No. 1 Utah.
Hachimura’s second-year stats nearly mirrored his rookie season. The 6-foot-8 native of Japan averaged 31.5 minutes, 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and made 47.8% from the field, including 32.8% on 3-pointers. His rookie numbers: 30.1 minutes, 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 46.6% from the floor, 28.7% on 3s.
Hachimura, the ninth overall pick of the 2019 draft, has started all 105 games in his career. The Wizards, paced by Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, went 17-6 down the stretch after a 17-32 start. They’re slight underdogs against the Celtics.
Sabonis made his second straight All-Star Game and he’s been outstanding of late, averaging a triple-double in May. The fifth-year pro set career highs in points (20.3) and assists (6.7) while averaging 12.0 rebounds. The Pacers have never had a player average 20 points, 12 boards and 5 assists in a season.
The Pacers are sixth in the NBA in scoring (115.3) but 25th in points allowed (115.3). They’ve struggled defensively after an injury to Myles Turner, the league’s top shot-blocker.
Clarke played more minutes (24.0 compared to 22.4), but his production dropped a bit in his second season. The 6-8 forward averaged 10.3 points, down nearly two from his rookie campaign, and made 51.7% from the field after hitting 61.8% last season. His 3-point accuracy slipped from 35.9% to 26.0%.
Tillie saw limited minutes, but he had a solid performance Friday in the only start of his rookie season. Tillie had 16 points, hit 3 of 6 3-pointers, and grabbed six boards in nearly 38 minutes. His previous high for minutes was 23.
The Grizzlies had a chance to pass Golden State for the eighth seed, but lost to the Warriors in the regular-season finale.
Portland, the sixth seed in the West, opens the playoffs against No. 3 Denver. Trail Blazers forward and former Zag Zach Collins hasn’t played all season after undergoing ankle surgeries in September and December. The fourth-year pro was limited to 11 games last season by shoulder and ankle injuries.
Former Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk changed addresses after a March trade sent him from Miami to Houston. He was impressive with the Rockets, averaging 19 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 27 games. He made 54.5% of his field-goal attempts, including 39.2% from distance.
Olynyk averaged 10 points and 6.1 boards in 43 games with the Heat.
Olynyk’s bid to join Adam Morrison (Lakers in 2009, 2010), Ronny Turiaf (Miami, 2012) and Austin Daye (San Antonio, 2014) as Zags with NBA championship rings came up short when Miami lost to the Lakers in the Finals last October.
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