The Blue Zone takes a look at the former Blue Devils who are healthy and ready to contribute for playoff teams.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
The regular season wrapped up Wednesday with the Cavaliers in an unfamiliar spot—second place. The defending NBA champions lost the top seed to the Boston Celtics after a lackluster second half of the season and have a losing record since the All-Star break. Although most analysts assume Cleveland should have little trouble dispatching Paul George and the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round, the Cavaliers are going to need Irving to step up and help Lebron as the duo look to make it back to the Finals for the third year in a row.
Irving been a mainstay in the Cavaliers' lineup since the All-Star break alongside Kevin Love and Lebron James, who have played significant minutes during the past two months.
In his last meeting with the Pacers, Irving dropped 23 points and dished out seven assists but shot just 5-of-20 from the field in a 135-130 double-overtime victory in Cleveland. The Cavaliers are 3-1 against the Pacers this season, but have dropped four in a row entering the postseason, including a collapse against the Hawks Monday in which they blew a 26-point fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime.
Irving has continued to shine on the offensive end, posting at least 18 points in the final five games he played in, including a 45-point outburst against the Hawks. However, he, along with the rest of the Cavaliers, will need to step up their defense if they want to make a run to repeat as NBA champions. As of Monday, they were allowing 108.0 points per 100 possessions, putting them in the same neighborhood as the likes of the New York Knicks.
J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
Before the postseason began, Redick added a nice finishing touch to his regular season Wednesday night by draining three 3-pointers, giving him 201 for the year to break his own franchise record. Redick had set the record at 200 in each of the previous two seasons, but finally eclipsed it in the regular-season finale against the Kings. The bucket was part of a solid 18-point, four-assist performance from the veteran shooting guard, who finished the season with his lowest 3-point percentage since the 2013-14 season.
Redick also saw a slight decrease in points per game despite attempting more 3-pointers per game compared to a season ago. Nevertheless, he still ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 42.9 percent and will be a key piece for the Clippers as they look to knock off the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz in their first-round matchup beginning Saturday.
Los Angeles, the No. 4 seed in the West, is hoping to take advantage of home-court advantage against the relatively young Jazz, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The Jazz also feature a familiar face for Blue Devil fans in Rodney Hood, as well as a pair of old Final Four rivals—former Butler standouts Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
After being hampered by injuries for much of the season, Hood returned to play limited minutes in the week leading up to the postseason. Although he has not played more than 30 minutes in a game since March 8, he did post back to back double-digit point totals in his final two games of the regular season, including 10 points in the season finale, a win against the resting San Antonio Spurs.
Hood’s production dropped off noticeably after the All-Star break, partially as a result of nagging leg injuries, and he struggled to stay healthy for the latter part of the season. In Utah’s three games this year against the Clippers with Hood on the floor, he averaged just 6.7 points in 23.7 minutes per game—for the season, he averaged 27.0 minutes and 12.7 points per game.
Hood’s injuries are representative of what has been a constant problem for the Jazz this season. Utah is the only team in the NBA not to have its preferred starting lineup play at least 200 minutes together during the season. In games where their ideal lineup—Hayward, Hood, George Hill, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert—did start, they were 12-2. However, the injury bug meant the Jazz relied heavily on their bench, which became one of the most productive in the league.
Dahntay Jones, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jones makes his appearance on this blog for the first time this season after the Cavaliers signed him for the last game of the regular season and the playoffs. The veteran, who played two years at Rutgers before transferring to Duke in 2001, rejoins Cleveland after he played a minor role in their title run a year ago. Jones kept in shape during his time away from the game and scored nine points on 3-of-8 shooting in the Cavaliers' final game of the regular season Wednesday with their stars resting.
Jones became somewhat notorious during the Eastern Conference Finals last season when he punched Bismack Biyombo in the groin, drawing a fine from the league that Lebron James said he would pay. Now, the Cavaliers hope he can provide the same veteran presence that helped deliver Cleveland its first title in any sport since 1964 a season ago.
Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City Thunder
Another name that rarely makes it into this blog, Singler has shown signs of improvement in the last month, stepping in for an injured Doug McDermott during Oklahoma City’s push for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Now, with a series against the Houston Rockets looming, the opportunities for Singler to see time on the court may be greater than one would have previously thought. Against the Denver Nuggets Sunday, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan was forced to play around with his lineups a bit, partially due to injuries and partially because Oklahoma City will have to match up with smaller lineups in the postseason.
Although Sunday’s game was heralded for Russell Westbrook’s record-breaking 42nd triple double of the season and a remarkable 14-point comeback, Singler quietly showed he may be deserving of more time in the playoffs. Granted, his last few seasons have been mostly ineffective. However, in 34 minutes, he scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and helped the Thunder outscore the Nuggets by 10 when he was on the floor. And although the Nuggets are far from James Harden’s Rockets, don’t be surprised if Donovan taps Singler for small-ball lineups in the playoffs.