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Believe it or not, the NBA has its own form of “March Madness”. Although not as unpredictable and dramatic as the NCAA Tournament, March in the NBA is still a time of the year where many teams’ seasons are decided. It’s a time where teams either start punching their tickets to the playoffs or begin tanking for better lottery chances. While one bad game can knock a great college team out of the tournament, one bad week could knock a competitive NBA team out of the playoff race.
So this week I’m going to go over how each former Hoosiers will need to play over the next few weeks to ensure their team stays in the playoff race. Everyone’s roles and situations are different so some may have to do a lot more than others.
Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:
@ Dallas (L 121-108): 6 points (3-10 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 personal fouls, 24 minutes.
Vs Chicago (W 102-89): 17 points (6-12 FG)(5-6 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, steal, block, 3 turnovers, personal foul, 36 minutes.
Vs Phoenix (L 102-84): DNP – injury
@ Golden State (L 119-113): 19 points (8-16 FG)(3-3 FT), 9 rebounds, 8 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 39 minutes.
@ Los Angeles Lakers (L 107-98): 26 points (10-17 FG)(4-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, block, 2 turnovers, personal foul, 36 minutes.
@ Sacramento (W 107-100): 18 points (6-14 FG)(5-8 FT), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, block, 5 turnovers, personal foul, 39 minutes.
@ Portland (L 121-84): 18 points (8-14 FG), rebound, assist, 2 steals, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 24 minutes.
Despite having gone 2-5 so far in the month of March, the Orlando Magic are still in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but time is definitely running out. No former Hoosier is more responsible for his team’s success than Victor Oladipo. That’s been magnified this last week with the absence of Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic. Oladipo is already asked to do a lot (shutdown defender, secondary ball-handler, secondary scoring threat) but even more responsibilities have been placed on him while the Magic’s playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread.
And those playoff hopes really are dimming fast. Despite being only five games out of the final playoff spot, the three teams ahead of the Magic have either split their last 10 games or have a winning record while the Magic are 3-7 in their last 10. That means that not only are the Magic not getting closer to a playoff spot, but other teams are starting to distance themselves from the Magic. It will truly be “March Madness” if the Magic are able to overcome all of this and make the playoffs and will require Oladipo playing on a level he’s yet to play during his NBA career.
Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:
@ Indiana (W 111-102): 5 points (2-5 FG), 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 18 minutes.
@ Boston (L 116-93): 6 points (3-10 FG)(0-2 FT), 5 rebounds, steal, 3 personal fouls, 20 minutes.
@ Toronto (L 117-115): 3 points (1-1 FG)(1-1 FT), 4 rebounds, assist, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 11 minutes.
@ Detroit (L 123-103): 2 points (1-2 FG), 3 rebounds, assist, 13 minutes.
Vs Washington (W 116-109): 2 points (0-2 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 11 minutes.
@ Golden State (L 128-112): 3 points (1-6 FG)(0-2 FT), 5 rebounds, block, 4 personal fouls, 17 minutes.
Vs Orlando (W 121-84): 4 points (2-7 FG), 5 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 21 minutes.
@ Oklahoma City (L 128-94): 4 points (2-6 FG), 5 rebounds, assist, block, personal foul, 17 minutes.
A 9-2 February has neutralized the impact of a 3-5 start to March, but only three games separate the Portland Trail Blazers’ current spot (the sixth seed in the west) from being on the outside looking in. One easy way for the Trail Blazers to hold onto a playoff spot would be if Noah Vonleh finally had his breakout performance, but after months of waiting they shouldn’t hold their breath.
In fact, it really feels like Vonleh’s progress has stagnated ever since the Trail Blazers committed to making the playoffs. I give credit to them for continuing to start Vonleh instead of burying him on the bench like he was in Charlotte, but if I’m being honest I wouldn’t blame the Trail Blazers if they did. Vonleh has shot an ugly 28.6% in March and has only had one game with more than five rebounds since returning from injury (he was averaging 5.6 rebounds for the entire month of January. He was injured at the start of February). If he can at least get back to how he was playing in January it would go a long way.
Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:
Vs Phoenix (W 126-92): 9 points (4-6 FG)(1-1 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes.
@ Philadelphia (W 119-99): 15 points (3-6 FG)(9-10 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.
Vs Indiana (W 108-101): 4 points (2-7 FG), 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 27 minutes.
Vs Minnesota (W 108-103): 6 points (2-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 6 personal fouls, 21 minutes.
Vs New Orleans (W 122-113): 13 points (3-4 FG)(7-9 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 30 minutes.
Vs Detroit (W 118-103): 10 points (3-4 FG)(4-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, personal foul, 24 minutes.
Vs Houston (W 125-109): 7 points (3-4 FG)(1-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 15 minutes.
Vs Dallas (L 107-96): 1 point (0-3 FG)(1-2 FT), 9 rebounds, steal, 2 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 27 minutes.
The month of March has been very kind to the Charlotte Hornets. A fringe playoff team when the month began, the Hornets have gone 7-1 and are now closer to the third seed (two games back) than they are to the eighth seed (three and a half games ahead). Cody Zeller has been a big part of this surge as he and Al Jefferson have finally found a rhythm where both are playing effectively despite splitting minutes at center.
Essentially Jefferson has become the offensive center and Zeller has become the defensive center. While Zeller’s scoring and rebounding are a little down, his assists and blocks have greatly increased. As long as he continues to play like he has over the past few weeks, the Hornets won’t just make the playoffs but might also win their first playoff series since the franchise was revived.
Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:
@ Houston (L 100-95): 14 points (5-11 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 5 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 32 minutes.
Vs San Antonio (L 94-86): 23 points (9-19 FG)(2-2 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, personal foul, 34 minutes.
Vs Utah (L 106-94): 7 points (3-4 FG), 2 assists, 2 blocks, 11 minutes.
Vs Sacramento (W 115-112): DNP – injury
@ Charlotte (L 122-113): DNP – injury
@ Memphis (L 121-114): DNP – injury
@ Milwaukee (L 103-92): DNP – injury
I said last time that the one thing Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans could not afford was for Gordon to get injured again. Well he re-injured the same finger that kept him out six weeks and now he’s out six more weeks, which is right after the Pelicans season ends. Even if they had Gordon, the Pelicans would still not make the playoffs, as the 10 game gap this team needs to climb with 16 games remaining is incredibly too steep and would require three teams to utterly collapse.
Victor Oladipo: 15.1ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.9apg, 1.48spg, 0.57bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 42.3% FG, 33.8% 3FG, 82.4% FT, 32.2mpg.
Noah Vonleh: 3.7ppg, 4.1rpg, 0.4apg, 0.38spg, 0.30bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.1fpg, 40.1% FG, 22.0% 3FG, 73.8% FT, 16.0mpg.
Cody Zeller: 9.0ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.0apg, 0.78spg, 0.74bpg, 1.1tpg, 3.0fpg, 51.0% FG, 10.0% 3FG, 74.8% FT, 24.8mpg.
Eric Gordon: 15.2ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.7apg, 0.96spg, 0.31bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.8% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 88.8% FT, 32.9mpg.