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Duke in the NBA: Irving, Tatum star as postseason approaches

Brandon Ingram's late-season play is guiding the Pelicans toward the playoffs.
Brandon Ingram's late-season play is guiding the Pelicans toward the playoffs.

With the college basketball season in the past and the NBA playoffs fast approaching, the Blue Zone is here to check in on former Blue Devils across the association:

Irving back in Brooklyn

After New York City mayor Eric Adams altered the city's vaccine mandate in late March, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is now eligible to play in home games. He still delivered some incredible performances on the road, including a career-high 60 points against the Orlando Magic. Now, Irving has joined the Nets for home games, and fans in Brooklyn can see the team's top point guard play again.

Irving dropped 42 points Tuesday to help the Nets claim the home win against the Houston Rockets. The Nets cruised to a 21-point lead, but the Rockets soon clawed back to cut it to six. Luckily for the Nets, Irving was there to save the day, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter to secure the win. Brooklyn certainly needs Irving now more than ever, as it is ranked eighth in the Eastern Conference standings with the postseason approaching. To secure a first-round playoff series and follow their championship aspirations, the Nets will first have to survive the Play-In Tournament. This season, Irving has played a total of 27 games, averaging 27.5 points and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 42% from three.

Tatum’s dominant March

The luck of the Irish has certainly been with the Boston Celtics recently, with star player and Duke alum Jayson Tatum being a big reason for their success. In the month of March, the Celtics compiled an 11-3 record after a somewhat disappointing start to the season. In that time, Tatum averaged 32.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. His shooting percentages were off the charts as he shot 53.8% from the field, 44.7% from 3-point range and 90.5% at the free throw line. Tatum's remarkable efficiency and own improvement during this last stretch of the regular season has been a major factor for the Celtics’ improvement.

Tatum made history during the month of March, winning multiple Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards to become the first Celtic to ever win the award in back-to-back weeks. However, the Celtics’ success proves that he is not just contributing to his own individual achievements, but to the team as a whole. The Celtics have clinched a playoff berth and sit in third place in the Eastern Conference standings with the postseason just around the corner.

Ingram driving Pelicans' playoff push

In a year without former Duke standout Zion Williamson, it could have been easy for the New Orleans Pelicans to focus their efforts on next season. However, they have shown their resilience time and time again, making the most out of a suboptimal situation. A big part of that has been the performance of star forward Brandon Ingram. In returning from a 10-game absence due to a hamstring injury to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in late March, Ingram scored 26 points to help the Pelicans overcome a 23-point deficit in a pivotal game for playoff positioning. 

The Pelicans and Lakers met again April 1, this time in Los Angeles. Ingram notched 29 points against his former team to extend the Pelicans' advantage in the playoff race. While the Pelicans trailed for much of the fourth quarter, they clawed back and Ingram had a huge fading shot to give the Pelicans the lead 110-108 late. New Orleans will no doubt need Ingram’s All-Star level play to win two play-in games and officially enter the playoffs.

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