There are less than a dozen games left in the NBA regular season, and the most dramatic race still going on is a five-team scrum in the Western Conference for three playoff spots. Those five clubs – the Warriors, Rockets, Lakers, Jazz and Mavericks – are separated by five games in the standings.
With so few games left and a ton on the line, this article will take a look at one key player on each team that will help separate the playoff teams from the teams in the middling lottery no-man’s land.
Andrew Bogut, Center, Golden State: The Warriors are 8-7 in March, and Bogut has played in 13 of those 15 games. That’s noteworthy, because he played in 12 total games before this month began. Golden State could use a little return on investment with Bogut, whose efficiency has decreased as his minutes have increased.
On the other hand, the Warriors have been playing better defense as his minutes have increased. Just look at how well Golden State is playing on defense this month (as usual, league rank in parentheses):
|Bogut||Reb||Def. Rating||Opp FG%|
|January||6.5||105 (23)||44.7 (10)|
|February||8.3||110.7 (29)||46.1 (16)|
|March||8.8||98 (4)||42.3 (3)|
Golden State is also helped by bench player Festus Ezeli, whose defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is tied with LeBron James for 11th in the league among players who have played at least 10 minutes per game in at least 10 March games. For the Warriors to make any sort of noise in the first round against teams like the Clippers or Nuggets, the defense is going to have to be rock solid. So far, it seems like Bogut’s increased playing time is helping the team’s cause.
Donatas Motiejunas, Forward. Houston: The Rockets are 21-13 in games which the 7-foot Lithuanian plays, and Houston has won the last six games in which Motiejunas has played more than 20 minutes. But it seems like Motiejunas has been a fairly consistent bellwether for the team’s success thus far. Check out the difference between his performance in wins as opposed to losses.
|Motiejunas||Games||Minutes||FG %||3 FG%||PPG||RPG|
When Motiejunas’ shot is right, the Rockets seem to play a lot better. Houston is 6-1 this month when he shoots over 40 percent from the field and 2-3 when he doesn’t. As his role increases with the team, so will his impact.
Earl Clark, Forward, L.A. Lakers: With Metta World Peace and his 34.6 minutes per game out six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Clark seems like the guy who would most likely get the largest bump in playing time in his absence. Clark’s importance to the team’s success has been well documented on this site, but Clark’s playing time and production has taken a major dive since the beginning of February.
|Earl Clark||Min/Game||FG %||PPG||RPG|
Antawn Jamison has been playing extremely well since he got more playing time and would have been the pick for the team’s important playoff player if not for the fact that he is 36 years old and has logged more than 30 minutes in just three of the Lakers’ 13 games in March. Clark really has to step in for World Peace and improve his play or there will be no postseason games for Kobe and Co.