April 18, 2014
By Scott Wortman, Wake Forest Athletic Communications (@TieDyeNation)
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The 2014 NBA Playoffs get underway this weekend and a number of former Demon Deacons will play prominent roles in determining who will be left standing in June. Four of the six Deacons who played in the NBA this season qualified for the playoffs.
Tim Duncan and Chris Paul lead the way with legitimate shots at winning the 2014 title. Duncan and Spurs are the top seed in the West and hold homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, while Paul and the Clippers are the No. 3 seed in the West.
Fifth-year players James Johnson and Jeff Teague both made the playoffs for their respective teams. Johnson and the Grizzlies are the No. 7 seed in the West, while Teague and the Hawks are the No. 8 seed in the East.
The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday. Game 1 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for June 5.
Duncan and the ageless Spurs finished with the NBA's best regular season record (62-20) and earned homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. San Antonio opens against No. 8 seed Dallas on Sunday afternoon as the Spurs look to make it back to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. Duncan and the Spurs lost an epic seven-game series to the Miami Heat in last year's Finals. Duncan played in 74 games during the 2013-14 regular season, averaging 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Johnson was a mid-season pickup for the Grizzlies and proved to be quite the find. Johnson helped Memphis earn one of the final playoff spots in the West, as the Grizzlies finished 50-32 to grab the No. 7 seed. Johnson played in 52 games with four starts this season, averaging 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds after the team signed him from the D-League in December. Memphis opens up at No. 2 seed Oklahoma City on Saturday evening.
Paul is healthy after recovering from a mid-season shoulder injury and looking to make the deepest playoff run of his nine-year career. The Clippers are very capable of doing just that after winning a franchise-record 57 games and earning the No. 3 seed in the West. Paul played in 62 games this season, averaging 19.1 points and 10.7 assists per game. The Clippers open up against No. 6 seed Golden State on Saturday afternoon, as a possible second-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder looms.
The playoffs are an annual tradition for Teague who has qualified for postseason play in each of his five seasons in the NBA. Atlanta had a bit of a drop-off from the past few seasons but still made it in as the No. 8 seed in the East. Teague did his part, playing in 79 games and averaging a career-best 16.5 points and 6.7 assists per game. Atlanta opens up the playoffs at the top-seeded Indiana Pacers on Saturday evening.
Aminu wrapped up his fourth season in the NBA and his third with New Orleans since being the No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. The Pelicans failed to qualify for the postseason, finishing 34-48 and 12th in the Western Conference standings. Aminu played in 80 games with 65 starts this season. He averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per game.
Smith has continued to make a name for himself in the NBA despite going undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2010. The fourth-year guard helped Phoenix to a surprising season, as the Suns unexpectedly competed for a playoff spot in the West. Ultimately, Phoenix came up one win shy finishing ninth at 48-34, just one game back of Dallas for the final postseason spot. Smith played in 70 games with one start for Phoenix after being acquired in an offseason trade. Smith, who averaged 3.7 points and 2.6 assists in 14.4 minutes per game in 2013-14, could be a free agent this offseason. Phoenix has until July 15 to decide whether to waive him or guarantee his contract for next season.