The road to the NBA Finals got underway Saturday and with five former Longhorns in the postseason, there’s a good chance one of Rick Barnes’ bunch will have some serious hardware come June.
The former college basketball AP Player of the Year leads the Thunder into the postseason looking to avenge an early exit last year at the hands of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and appears poised to make a strong push for the Finals this time around.
Durantula didn’t waste any time making his presence felt in the playoffs, dropping a postseason career-high 41 points on the Denver Nuggets as Oklahoma City took the first game of its first- round series 107-103 Sunday, the franchise’s first win in a playoff opener since 1998 when the organization called Seattle home.
Durant turned in an MVP-caliber season in 2010-11 and took home the scoring title for the second year in a row after averaging 27.7 points per game. The fourth-year pro also averaged 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Combine those figures with his league-best scoring mark and Durant ranks fifth in the NBA with those totals.
Behind Durant, the Thunder (55-27) won five more games than a season ago and secured the fourth seed in the West.
Look for the former Texas great to cause defenders some major headaches this postseason as he tries to bring Oklahoma City to new heights.
Aldridge and the injury-ravaged Trail Blazers came on strong after the All-Star break, and the fifth-year pro looks ready to continue making a name for himself this postseason.
The power forward put on a show Saturday in Dallas in his return to his hometown and scored 27 points while pulling in six rebounds. But it was not enough to stop the Mavericks as sixth-seeded Portland dropped Game 1 89-81.
Aldridge had a career year for the Trail Blazers and led the team in scoring with 21.8 points per contest while putting up career highs in points, rebounds (8.8), free-throw shooting percentage and field-goal shooting percentage. The second overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft only missed one game for the Blazers, who were hit hard by the injury bug once again.
Portland will be hard-pressed to outlast Dallas in a seven-game series, but don’t be surprised if Aldridge becomes a household name before his time is up this season.
The 20-year-old has the best shot of any former Longhorn to kiss the Larry O’Brien trophy as the Celtics try to erase last season’s close call and march towards banner No. 18.
Bradley’s rookie season had its share of ups and downs, but growing pains were expected with little room for playing time on a Boston squad laden with veterans and future Hall of Famers. But the point guard saw action in 31 games and head coach Doc Rivers pegged Bradley as a defensive stopper. In the regular season finale against New York, Bradley showcased the ability that made him the 19th-overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, scoring 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting and coming up with a pair of steals.
But don’t expect Bradley to see much time on the court for Boston this postseason.
The rookie center may be the luckiest Longhorn in the league after being drafted my Miami and taking his talents to South Beach along with two-time NBA MVP LeBron James to win the “King” a ring in year one of the “Heatles.”
Pittman rode the Heat bench in his rookie season while logging just 11 minutes in two games. He also saw time in the D-League with Sioux Falls, averaging 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in 22 games.
Barring injuries to almost all of the Miami big men, Pittman will enjoy the Heat’s postseason ride from the pine.
Ivey is one of the Thunder’s elder statesmen and head coach Scott Brooks will lean on the former Longhorn’s experience to get Oklahoma City out of the first round.
The defensive specialist played a limited role this season, appearing in 25 games. But the Thunder is a young bunch and Ivey’s veteran presence in the locker room is the reason he has a roster spot as he continues to groom young guards such as Eric Maynor and Russell Westbrook.
Ivey’s biggest playoff contribution will be his knowledge of opposing Denver point guard Raymond Felton as the two went at it during their time in the Southeast Division.