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Anthony Davis, former Wildcats enter NBA playoffs hoping to take next step as pros

Former Wildcat Player of the Year Anthony Davis helped New Orleans win its season finale against San Antonio Wednesday, clinching his first appearance in the NBA playoffs (NBA.com Photo)

Former Wildcat Player of the Year Anthony Davis helped New Orleans win its season finale against San Antonio Wednesday, clinching his first appearance in the NBA playoffs (NBA.com Photo)


By Jonathan Coffman
KyForward intern


The NBA season concluded Wednesday, and five former Kentucky players made it into the postseason. But the former star getting the most attention is the one making his first playoff appearance.

Former NCAA Player of the Year Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans clinched the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed in the regular season finale with a win against the defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

Davis produced 31 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks in 43 minutes to carry the Pelicans in win or go home circumstances. The Spurs played all of their starters in hopes to clinch the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed.

But Davis had other goals in mind. He hoped to make the playoffs for the first time in his three-year career.

‘The Brow’ went 7-9 from the field down the stretch, yet the Pelicans only held on to a seven-point lead. In the last minute, Davis sealed the victory with his 500th and 501st career blocks. The milestone fittingly came in a moment that reflected his growth as a player.

Davis led the team to its first playoff berth in four years.

The regular-season finale was one of several maturing moments for Davis this season. He led the Pelicans neck and neck with the Oklahoma City Thunder the last two months when many expected them to concede the final playoff spot. Oklahoma City was riddled by injuries to Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, but saw point guard Russell Westbrook rip off 10 triple doubles during the stretch.

A tie-breaking game between the teams, both finishing the season 45-37, held the moment where Davis took his largest step forward. In their fourth game, Davis hit a double-clutching three-point buzzer beater in overtime to lift the Pelicans to a 3-1 season series advantage over the Thunder and to the playoff tie-breaker.

Davis was just doing what superstars do: making a play at all cost to earn a victory. It was reason to celebrate, but the Pelicans’ star may not have realized the impact that shot would later have on his progress as a player.

That buzzer beater landed the Pelicans in a situation known to catapult young teams from good to great. Davis and Co. face the Western Conference’s top-seeded Golden State Warriors with the odds against them, but not long ago the Warriors were in a similar situation.

Last year the Warriors were a six seed and took the Spurs to a six-game series, ultimately falling, 4-2. The Warriors were not favored, but they rose to the occasion and stole two games away from the eventual champions.

Before Golden State, there was the Thunder challenging the Los Angeles Lakers in a first round 2010 matchup. This will be the first playoffs the Thunder have missed since.

There is real value for a superstar to compete against the best in this atmosphere. Advanced statistics such as his league leading 30.8 PER imply he is becoming one of the best. But playoff experience against a dominant Warriors team will leave the Pelicans wanting more.

Teams have to suffer first before reaching greatness. The Pelicans just may be on their way to crossing that barrier.

New Orleans will play Game 1 at Golden State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC.

Other Kentucky players in 2015 playoffs

Kentucky fans can enjoy two series matchups pitting four former Wildcats.

John Wall’s Washington Wizards and Patrick Patterson’s Toronto Raptors will square off in an Eastern Conference No. 4 seeded vs. No. 5 seed matchup while Terrence Jones’ second seeded Houston Rockets will face Rajon Rondo’s Dallas Mavericks, the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference.

The Wizards and Raptors entered the year hoping to make a leap in the Eastern Conference, but both have suffered from misfortune and an element of disfunction. Wall’s Wizards have been mocked by some for inept coaching by Randy Wittman, and Patterson’s Raptors have seen significant injuries to players such as team scoring leader DeMar DeRozan.

The Western Conference matchup is a chance for redemption for former Wildcats. Jones played in only 33 games this season due to injury. Rondo has had underwhelming chemistry in the Dallas offense, but has remained in the league’s top five in assists. Both will look to return to form in their first round matchup.

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Eastern Conference former Wildcats have continued to be bright spots. Wall led the Wizards in scoring, and his 10 assists per game was second in the league to Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

Patterson has gained attention for his bench contributions with the Raptors, leading some to suggest he deserves to be mentioned in the Sixth Man of the Year Award conversation. Despite their teams hitting road bumps, Wall and Patterson continue to drive their teams toward long term success.

Washington will play Game 1 at Toronto at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. Dallas will play Game 1 at Houston at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

Jonathan Coffman is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky.

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