(2) Houston Rockets (Terrence Jones) vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers
Game 1 of the first Western Conference Semifinals of Jones' career will tip off in Houston at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT. Jones scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in the Rockets' 103-94 Game 5 victory over the Dallas Mavericks last Tuesday. The Clippers and Rockets split the regular season series, 2-2, with Houston claiming the latter two contests. Jones sat out both Rockets losses due to injury.
East (1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Washington Wizards (John Wall), WSH 1-0
The Wizards continued their postseason undefeated streak with a 104-98 victory over the top-seeded Hawks on the road. Wall fought through a sprained left wrist to notch his fourth double-double in five playoff games, by way of 18 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds. Game 2 is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday. TNT will broadcast live from Atlanta.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed)
After sitting out the first six games of the Bulls' first round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, the 37-year-old Mohammed recorded two points, one block, and one rebound in Chicago's 120-66 Game 7 annihilation of Milwaukee. Game 1 with the Cavs will begin tonight in Cleveland at 7:00 p.m. on TNT.
(1) Golden State Warriors def. (8) New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis), 4-0
Despite 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game in Davis' postseason debut, the Pelicans were swept by the top-seeded Warriors. New Orleans stayed competitive in each contest, including in holding a 20-point fourth quarter lead that led to an overtime loss at home in Game 3. Golden State will face either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round.
After playing just 10 minutes in Dallas' Game 2 loss in Houston, Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason with a back injury. Meanwhile, Jones continues to thrive in the Rockets' starting lineup despite having played in only 33 games during an injury-riddled regular season. The 23-year-old has averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds over the series' first four games. Houston claimed the first three matchups by an eight-point average margin of victory, but failed to complete the series sweep Sunday night in Dallas. Game 5 will take place in Houston on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.
(5) Washington Wizards (John Wall) def. (4) Toronto Raptors (Patrick Patterson), 4-0
In a battle of former collegiate teammates, Wall's Wizards defeated Patterson's higher seeded Raptors 4-0 in Washington's first series sweep in franchise history. Wall led the way with an average of 17.3 points and 12.5 assists over the four-game stretch. Poor field-goal shooting notwithstanding, Wall made his living at the free-throw line with a 24-for-28 (.857) performance. Patterson shined for Toronto, posting a 10.3 scoring average (3.0 points higher than in the regular season) and a 7-for-15 (.467) three-point field goal total. Chuck Hayes, who is also on the Raptors roster, logged zero playoff minutes. The Wizards will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets in the second round.
(3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks, CHI 3-1
Like Hayes and James Young (whose Boston Celtics were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs' opening round), the 17-year veteran Mohammed has not seen the floor this postseason. Game 5 in Chicago is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on TNT.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis), GS 1-0
After falling behind 25 points late in the third quarter, Davis spurred a Pelicans comeback effort that ultimately came up seven points shy in his NBA Playoff debut. The former No. 1 overall selection tallied 35 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks in the 106-99 Warriors victory. Game 2 will take place Monday night at 10:30 p.m. ET in Oakland, Calif. on TNT.
Jones, who has reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, emerged big in a Game 1 starting effort for the victorious Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward notched 19 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in the 118-108 Houston win. Rondo logged 15 points and five assists for Dallas. Game 2 is scheduled in Houston for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on TNT.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics (James Young), CLE 1-0
Young, a 19-year-old rookie, failed to see the floor in Boston's 113-100 Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers. The Celtics will get a second shot at Cleveland Tuesday at 7 p.m. on TNT. (3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks, CHI 1-0
Mohammed, a 37-year-old veteran playing in his 17th NBA season, also spent Game 1 of his team's best-of-seven series on the bench. The Bulls defeated the Bucks 103-91, and will play Game 2 Monday at 8:00 p.m. on TNT.
(4) Toronto Raptors (Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) vs. (5) Washington Wizards (John Wall), WSH 1-0
In a postseason series featuring former 2009-10 teammates and First Team All-SEC performers Wall and Patterson, the road team edged out the home favorites 93-86 in Canada. Despite nightmarish 5-for-18 field goal shooting, Wall scored 10 points, with eight assists and six rebounds. Patterson matched Wall's 10 points in addition to five rebounds, while Hayes logged no minutes on the court. Game 2 will commence Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. in Toronto on NBA TV.
As the 2014-15 NBA regular season comes to a close, the yearlong journeys of Kentucky's 18 former players are concluding in various fashions.
Some former Cats, like John Wall and Rajon Rondo, are using the season's final week to prepare for the NBA Playoffs, which start April 18. Some, like DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight, have already hung up their sneakers and join injured rookie Julius Randle in looking ahead to 2015-16.
Others, such as Anthony Davis and Enes Kanter, are fighting for their postseason lives and must play each remaining game like it's their last. Davis' New Orleans Pelicans and Kanter's Oklahoma City Thunder head into the week tied for eighth place and the final playoff spot in the NBA's Western Conference.
Performance of the Week Anthony Davis | New Orleans Pelicans: 103, Golden State Warriors: 100 | April 7, 2015 In a contest that came down to the closing seconds, Davis propelled the Pelicans to a three-point victory over the owners of the NBA's best record. "The Brow" recorded a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks, two steals, and two assists in 40 minutes of play last Tuesday. If the Pelicans--who own a tiebreaker over the Thunder--secure the West's final playoff spot, they will face the top-seeded Warriors in the first round.
Eric Bledsoe | #2 PG | Phoenix Suns (39-41) Bledsoe averaged 14.0 points and 5.0 assists over three Suns games. Phoenix fell to the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks on April 7 and Dallas Mavericks on April 8, and finished the week with a 90-75 loss to Davis' Pelicans on April 10.
Anthony Davis | #23 PF | New Orleans Pelicans (43-36) Davis followed up Tuesday's monster performance with 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks over his next two games. The Pelicans lost on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies by a score of 110-74 on April 8, but bounced back with Friday's blowout of the Suns in front of the home crowd at Smoothie King Center in Louisiana.
Enes Kanter | #34 C | Oklahoma City Thunder (43-36) As OKC competes with NOLA for a shot at the postseason, Kanter continues to be the anchor down low that the Thunder were missing to start the season. The Turkey native averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over three games last week. On Friday, the Thunder ended a four-game losing streak with a 116-103 victory over the Sacramento Kings, thanks in part to 25 points and six rebounds from Kanter.
Willie Cauley-Stein has always been the one with experience.
He knows what it's like to go through a freshman season under John Calipari. He's seen the difference between an NIT season and advancing to the Final Four. He understands the ins and outs of college life.
When his younger teammates have needed perspective, he's been there.
On Thursday, Cauley-Stein and six fellow Wildcats declared for the NBA Draft. UK's elder statesman is officially out of sage advice.
"I'm in the same boat as them," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't really have any. Just, I'm excited. This is a chance to start your life."
Cauley-Stein might be 21 years old, but saying moving on to the professional ranks is the start of his life is no accident. His three years in Lexington have been memorable - particularly thanks to fans and teammates - but Cauley-Stein now has his fate completely in his own hands.
"I'm saying life because that's you," Cauley-Stein said. "You can control everything. When you're in school, you control your schoolwork. That's what you have control over. Basketball-wise, you're told where to go, you're told when to be there, you're told everything."
For Cauley-Stein - projected as a top-10 pick - it's sink-or-swim time.
"When you take that next step, it's on you," Cauley-Stein said. "So if you don't go to that place--we're going to tell you to go here, but if you don't go we're going to find you or we're cutting you because you don't know how to be on time for your job. Here, it's like, OK, we're going to run you. OK. You're a kid. Now you're a grown man."
Cauley-Stein twice passed up opportunities to enter the NBA Draft, returning for both his sophomore or junior seasons when others might not have. A year ago, Cauley-Stein likely would have gone had he not gotten hurt during UK's magical tournament run.
Instead, he came back to take a shot at playing on college basketball's biggest stage. Though Cauley-Stein didn't get the two wins there he wanted, he now feels comfortable taking that next step.
"I was going to leave last year, broke my ankle, didn't get a chance to play in the Final Four," Cauley-Stein said. "That was my whole motive coming back. I got a chance to play in it, I'm healthy."
And in hindsight, the injury was a blessing for Cauley-Stein, who developed into a consensus first-team All-American in 2014-15. It gave him one more season to mature and play under John Calipari, the coach he says prepares his players for the next level better than any in America.
"It would chew anybody up and spit them out," Cauley-Stein said. "Being young like that and going, you gotta be here. Like, this place prepares you for that. The young guys that thrive in the NBA, there's a reason why. There's a method. There's a remedy that Cal does that that's why they're ready to go when they get there. Because they're mentally--the way everything is ran here is exactly how a pro team is set. That's why it's so successful here."
Cauley-Stein now looks to be the latest in a long line of Calipari pupils to excel in the NBA. Even though he played every sport under the sun growing up, Cauley-Stein has always worked toward this exact moment.
"I get a chance to take a step forward and have a chance to do something that I've been dreaming about since I was 7 years old playing against Tim Duncan and I'm Tim Duncan," Cauley-Stein said. "I'm playing by myself but I'm pretending that Tim Duncan's guarding me or something . I remember a day that I was in my driveway playing that to a 50 Cent song. You grow up dreaming that and you get a chance to do it, it's a wonderful feeling."
Cauley-Stein's road to realizing that dream has been a winding one. He wouldn't trade it for anything.
"It's like a weight off your shoulders just because, dang, I worked so hard to get to this point and I never thought it would actually come true the way it did," Cauley-Stein said. "But I couldn't ask for any better start to a story than what I have gone through."
For the last few days, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the men's basketball season that was. As I know it is for all of you, shaking the disappointment of the season ending two wins shy of where we all wanted it to end hasn't been easy. But as the days have passed, it's become easier to remember exactly how special this journey has been.
As I wrote before the Final Four, it was an incredible group of young men that took us on this journey. When they came together before the Big Blue Bahamas tour, we all knew the talent and depth they possessed. Very quickly, it became clear they were intent on fully realizing their potential and that John Calipari was the coach to get them there.
Early in the season, they performed on the biggest of stages. They were dominant against Kansas and UCLA, showing the power of inexhaustible energy when it's mixed with the pure joy this team constantly showed in playing together. They handled opponents bringing every conceivable game plan to beat them, demonstrating intelligence and awareness in adjusting to various styles of play.
Seemingly every game, different players stepped up and took the reins. One game Andrew Harrison would stand out, the next Tyler Ulis. Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns didn't care whether they had two points or 21 even though they were both possible lottery picks, so long as the team was succeeding. Eight players led us in scoring in our first seven games, and it never seemed to matter to any of them, signaling the kind of selflessness and caring for one another that would last the season.
That caring, unfortunately, underwent its toughest test of the season when Alex Poythress went down with a season-ending knee injury. The compassion they showed for Alex immediately afterward, at the North Carolina game later that week and throughout the season, was a powerful example of what it means to be a teammate and truly a pleasure to witness.
In spite of losing Alex - a steadying veteran presence off the floor and game-changing player on it - they marched on. They kept their composure in some of the most hostile road environments I have ever seen firsthand, surviving tough tests at Louisville and throughout Southeastern Conference play. All the while, the pressure intensified as the calendar reached January, February and March and their record remained unblemished.
Unquestionably, Kentucky was the biggest story in college basketball this season. The spotlight is always bright here, but I have never seen anything quite like what this team faced. They were dissected and analyzed from every possible angle, with experts breaking down how they could be beaten and wondering whether they would be able to stay together. They fielded question after question in facing an unprecedented media blitz, never saying a word to start even the smallest controversy.
The clutter, as Coach Cal predicted it would be, was everywhere, but they tuned it out under his leadership. In doing so, they gave us some unforgettable moments. They played overtime games and rallied from late deficits, always finding ways to win with clutch plays on offense and some of the best defense I've ever seen. They won in dominant fashion too, creating some of my favorite moments when they cheered as the third platoon closed out the final moments of big wins.
All the while, they represented our athletics department, school and state in a way that made us all proud. With incredible demands placed on their time, they remained dedicated students and combined for a grade-point average of 3.129 in the fall. Just as impressively, these young men recognized the impact their high profile allowed them to make on the lives of others and embraced it. For every story like Marcus Lee visiting a sick child in the hospital that comes out publicly, there are a dozen more that happen without anyone ever knowing.
As the regular season closed and they remained unbeaten, we celebrated an SEC championship. As they won the SEC Tournament with Nashville overtaken by the Big Blue Nation, we did the same. All the while, they kept their ultimate goal of a national championship at the front of their minds. In the NCAA Tournament, they were able to shift their attention fully to their pursuit of that goal.
In front of huge UK crowds in Louisville, they advanced past Hampton and won a physical battle against Cincinnati. Moving to Cleveland, they overwhelmed West Virginia and once again showed their will to win against an excellent Notre Dame team. In winning the Midwest Region, they gave Coach Cal his fourth Final Four trip in five seasons and made him one of three coaches in NCAA history to earn that distinction. Truly, he has been responsible for one of the greatest runs in our program's illustrious history and I can't say often enough how happy I am that John is our coach.
Against Wisconsin, the latest Final Four trip and the undefeated season ended. I won't go into detail about the game itself because it still hurts, but I do want to talk about what happened afterward.
Speaking from my perspective, the end came before I could even process it. One moment we were up four, the next Wisconsin was celebrating. Everything our players had worked for all season was over in a blink. The emotions were overwhelming for me, and I wasn't even between the lines. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for the players who had shouldered a heavy burden all season long. Doing so at age 18-22 is even more difficult to fathom.
The actions of some of our players in the aftermath of the game were not acceptable and have been addressed internally. As a family, we keep matters like this in house and I am proud of the way John runs our program. These things remain inexcusable, but they came in the heat of the moment and do not reflect the true character of our players.
But just as we learned valuable lessons in unselfishness from the successes of this team, we learn lessons in forgiveness and how to respond to adversity from the way the season ended. These lessons apply whether you are a fan supporting this university, a player returning for next season or going on to the NBA, or me as an athletics director.
Standing on the pedestal afforded by being at Kentucky comes with privileges, there's no doubt. We enjoy the best fan support in the country and great facilities and resources that give us the opportunity to compete for championships annually. Scrutiny, however, accompanies all this. Even after doing the right thing for six months, a faction will quickly pounce on a split-second mistake. For this reason, we must be constantly vigilant. Missteps, however, are inevitable. We must be aware of that fact, able to respond in a positive way and able to forgive those missteps when others make them. As Coach Cal says, we are not machines.
In closing, I refuse to let a single bad night take away from everything this team accomplished both on and off the floor this season. These players have given a great deal not only to the fans that followed them, but to the game of basketball. I believe history will reflect that.
With Coach Cal leading us, our program has a bright future. Before we move into it, let's take one more moment to celebrate the season we all just had the honor of being a part of and thank the players and coaches who made it possible.