Kentucky’s John Calipari: ‘I’m proud of these guys, I’m proud of my team’
A former University of Kentucky star hasn’t won an NBA championship as a player since Rajon Rondo was part of the Boston Celtics’ title team in 2008. Odds are that will change this season.
The Golden State Warriors, with DeMarcus Cousins, are the favorite to win their third championship in a row and fourth in the last five seasons. Golden State finished atop the Western Conference standings with a 57-25 record, and odds opened with them the favorite at 1-2 to win it all again this year..
It’ll be Cousins’ first trip to the playoffs in nine seasons after missing the Pelicans’ trip last year with a torn left Achilles tendon.
“He has been so much fun to coach,” the Warriors’ Steve Kerr told the Associated Press just before the end of the regular season. “… Since he returned and since he’s grown comfortable with the injury, with the comeback and since his confidence has grown, he’s been amazing to coach. “
He’s a fantastic human being, a great teammate,” Kerr added. “You see his frustration and his passion on the court so people automatically sort of attach labels to him. What I see is passion and emotion because he wants to win.”
The Milwaukee Bucks, with Eric Bledsoe in the starting lineup, also have a strong shot to break former UK players’ 10-year skid. They are the Eastern Conference’s top seed after ending the regular season with the NBA’s best record at 60-22, and they opened as Vegas’ second choice to win it all at 6-1.
Bledsoe is having a strong season on offense, but it’s his defense that he says he takes much pride in.
“It’s going out there, giving my best on that end of the floor, because I’m really good at it,” Bledsoe told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Because I really don’t like people scoring on me for one, for one. Two is I’m just real competitive.”
And the Denver Nuggets, who finished second in the West at 54-28, could be a player in the postseason with ex-Cats Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles and Jarred Vanderbilt on the roster.
Also of note, here are some of the marquee former UK stars who’ll join you in watching the playoffs from home: the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, the Washington Wizards’ John Wall (who has been sidelined for the season by an Achilles injury) , the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker and the Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox.
Here’s a look at each upcoming playoffs series and which former Kentucky stars are on the rosters:
No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers: Cousins joined the Warriors’ squad in the off-season as a free agent and made his season debut on Jan. 18 after recovering from his Achilles injury. He has averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 25.7 minutes per game. He finished the season strong with 20.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in four games in April. … Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started 73 of 82 games for the Clippers, which finished eighth in the West with a 48-34 record. He averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds and finished strong with 14.4 points and 4.4 assists in games played in March and April.
▪ Head-to-head: Cousins averaged 13.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 19.0 minutes in two games against the Clippers this season. … Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals in four games against the Warriors.
▪ Game 1: Clippers at Warriors, 8 p.m. Saturday (ABC-36).
No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs: Murray is the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. He is shooting 36.7 percent from three-point range and 84.8 percent from the free-throw line while averaging 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds. Lyles, whose playing time has fluctuated throughout the season, averages 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 17.5 minutes. Vanderbilt, a rookie, has averaged 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 17 games.
▪ Head-to-head: Murray averaged 19.8 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 41.4 percent from three-point range in four regular-season games against the Spurs. Lyles played in three games against San Antonio, averaging 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 12.7 minutes.
▪ Game 1: Spurs at Nuggets, 10:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder: After a tumultuous first half of the season with the New York Knicks, Enes Kanter was waived and then joined the Trail Blazers as a free agent. He’s nearly averaged a double-double in the regular season with 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He put up big numbers in five April games with averages of 19.8 points and 12.4 rebounds. Skal Labissiere, who also joined Portland mid-season, has averaged 3.0 points and 2.0 rebounds. … The Thunder roster includes three ex-Cats with Nerlens Noel being the top contributor at 4.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 13.7 minutes per game. Patrick Patterson averages 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13.7 minutes, and rookie Hamidou Diallo averages 3.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 10.3 minutes.
▪ Head-to-head: Kanter’s stats against the Thunder this season don’t match up to his overall numbers: 11.0 points and 4.7 rebounds in three games, but only one of those games came since he hooked up with Portland. … Noel averaged 4.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in four games against the Trail Blazers while Patterson contributed 4.0 points and 2.7 boards.
▪ Game 1: Thunder at Trail Blazers, 3:30 p.m. Sunday (ABC-36).
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz: Terrence Jones spent a brief stint late in the season with the Rockets, but there are no ex-Cats on either team’s roster heading into the playoffs.
▪ Game 1: Jazz at Rockets, 9:30 p.m. Sunday (TNT).
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons: Bledsoe is averaging 15.9 points, 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals in his first full season for Bucks. His numbers are up a bit after the All-Star break: 16.1 points, 5.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals. … There aren’t any ex-Cats on the Pistons’ roster, but their coach is former Kentucky player and assistant Dwane Casey.
▪ Head-to-head: Bledsoe played well against the Pistons this season, averaging 20.5 points, 6.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals with 0.5 turnovers in four games. He shot 40.0 percent from three-point range.
▪ Game 1: Pistons at Bucks, 7 p.m. Sunday (TNT)
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Orlando Magic: Jodie Meeks has played in eight games since joining the Raptors in the second half of the season, averaging 6.4 points and 1.5 rebounds. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range. … Isaiah Briscoe (3.5 points and 2.2 assists) was a key reserve for the Magic for a big chunk of the season, but a torn meniscus sidelined him for the end of the season. Orlando, without any assurance that Briscoe would return for the playoffs, waived the ex-Cat just ahead of the postseason on April 4.
▪ Head-to-head: The Magic were the Raptors’ opponent in two of the eight games Meeks has played in this season. He averaged 6.0 points and 1.5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes while shooting 40.0 percent from long range.
▪ Game 1: Magic at Raptors, 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets: Neither team has a former Kentucky player on its roster.
▪ Game 1: Nets at 76ers, 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers: Neither team has a former Kentucky player on its roster.
▪ Game 1: Pacers at Celtics, 1 p.m. Sunday (TNT).