We have to start off this rundown of all of the former Marquette players in the first round of the NBA playoffs by acknowledging that Juan Toscano-Anderson and the Golden State Warriors did not officially make the playoffs. While the Dubs finished with the eighth best record in the Western Conference this season, they lost to Los Angeles in the #7 seed play-in game and to Memphis in the #8 seed play-in game. Both games were decided by razor thin margins as a late three by LeBron James won the first game for the Lakers and the Grizzlies game went to overtime.
So close, yet so far.
We’re left with five former MU players either playing for or coaching a team in an official seven game first round series after JTA’s elimination by noted Marquette killer Ja Morant. Below you’ll find a quick preview and the schedule for each of the five men in the first round, although only the first four games in each series have start times and television designations at this time. You have to respect the NBA saying “hey, we’ll decide what game goes where when we need to” because it gives them flexibility for the best possible television schedule as all of the series start to come to an end.
We’ll do this by regular season record, so here we go!
Jae Crowder — Phoenix Suns (51-21)
Wesley Matthews — Los Angeles Lakers (42-30)
Crowder and the Suns have the best record of any team with a former Marquette player involved after finishing with the #2 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll be taking on the #7 seed Los Angeles Lakers after LeBron James hit a very late desperation three to beat Golden State in their play-in tournament game. Crowder has played in 60 games this year for the Suns, starting 42 of them. He’s averaging 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 38.9% from long range.
As you can see from the top there, Crowder isn’t the only former Marquette guy in this series. Wesley Matthews plays for the Lakers, so the good news here is that we’re guaranteed to see at least one MU guy advance to the second round. The bad news is, of course, that one Marquette guy will be eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. Matthews has only played in 58 of LA’s 72 games in the regular season, but he did start 10 times. He is averaging 4.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, and just under an assist per game while averaging about 19 minutes per game and shooting 33.5% from long range. It’s been one of Matthews’ quieter seasons in the NBA, but that’s what happens when you go from “regular starter no matter where you’re playing” to “signed up to play with the defending champs because, well, duh.”
Game 1: Sunday, May 23, 2:30pm Central, ABC
Game 2: Tuesday, May 25, 9pm Central, TNT
Game 3: Thursday, May 27, 9pm Central, TNT
Game 4: Sunday, May 30, 2:30pm, ABC
Game 5: Tuesday, June 1, 9pm Central, TNT
Game 6: Thursday, June 3, 9:30 Central, TNT
Game 7 (If Necessary): Saturday, June 5, TBD
Doc Rivers — Philadelphia 76ers (49-23)
Doc is, of course, not playing for the Sixers, but is instead their head coach. This is his fourth stop as a head coach and first year in charge in Philly after running the show for the Clippers up until last season.
The former Marquette guard has led Philadelphia to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, edging out Brooklyn by just one game in the standings. The Sixers are led by MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who gives them 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. While Embiid does a whole hell of a lot for this squad, they’re pretty deep with four more guys averaging at least 12 points per game. Ben Simmons is a walking triple-double threat for Doc’s squad, averaging 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists.
Philly is taking on the Washington Wizards in the first round after the Wiz lost 118-100 to Boston in the play-in game for the #7 seed but smashed Indiana 142-115 in the second to lock up the #8 seed. The Wizards went 34-38 this season and are led by the combination of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Beal is the team’s leading scorer at 31.3 points per game, while Westbrook averaged a triple-double at 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists.
Game 1: Sunday, May 23, Noon Central, TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, May 26, 6pm Central, NBA TV
Game 3: Saturday, May 29, TBD, ESPN
Game 4: Monday, May 31, 6pm Central, TNT
Game 5 (If Necessary): Wednesday, June 2, TBD
Markus Howard — Denver Nuggets (47-21)
Marquette’s all-time leading scorer has had a statistically quiet season in his first year in the NBA. He has played in just 37 games for the Nuggets, although he earned a start for head coach Mike Malone late in the season. Overall, Howard is averaging 2.8 points, 0.6 rebounds, and 0.5 assists while playing just over five minutes when he gets into a game and is shooting a very not good 28% from long range. However, things picked up for him late in the year. Howard played in each of Denver’s last five games of the regular season, tying a high water mark for consecutive games played on the year for him. In those five games, he’s averaging 14.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and is shooting 44.4% from behind the arc.
We’ll have to wait and see how much playing time Malone gives Howard in the playoffs. Denver was jostling with the Clippers to decide the #3 and #4 seed down the stretch with the Nuggets ending up as the #3 by way of tiebreakers at the end of the regular season. Malone gave Howard a bunch of playing time in games that actually did matter to the team, but you could also see it as Malone opting to give his primary rotation guys a little bit more rest down the stretch.
The Nuggets, who are led by Nikola Jokic who should be the MVP this season if there is a God, will be facing off against #6 seed Portland in the first round. The Trail Blazers wrapped up the regular season with a 42-30 record, which actually had them in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference. Tiebreakers sent Dallas to the #5 seed, Portland to the #6, and the Lakers to the Play-In Tournament as the #7. Every game matters, y’all.
Game 1: Saturday, May 22, 9:30pm Central, ESPN
Game 2: Monday, May 24, 9pm Central, TNT
Game 3: Thursday, May 27, 9:30pm Central, NBA TV
Game 4: Saturday, May 29, 3pm Central, TNT
Game 5: Tuesday, June 1, 8pm, NBA TV
Game 6: Thursday, June 3, 7pm Central, TNT
Game 7 (If Necessary): Saturday, June 5, TBD
Jimmy Butler — Miami Heat (40-32)
Caaaaaaan I interest you in a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals in the first round of the 2021 playoffs? That’s what you’re getting here, as the Heat earned the #6 seed which gets them a first round series against the #3 seeded Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Butler played in just 52 of Miami’s 72 games this season, but most of his missed games came in a 10 game span back in January. He is averaging a team high 21.5 points to go with 6.9 rebounds and a team high 7.1 assists per game and a team high 2.1 steals per game, too. The former Marquette jack-of-all-trades continues to not be able to shoot the three-ball very well, recording his second straight sub-30% season long shooting percentage after connecting on 34% over the first eight seasons of his career and 35% over the previous five seasons. This is mostly fine, because that’s what Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragic are on the team to do.
Obviously, the Heat are not favored to win this series, particularly if the back issue that held Jimmy Butler out of the final couple of games of the regular season turns into A Thing in the playoffs. What we know for sure though, because Jimmy F. Butler is involved, is that the Heat are going to make Milwaukee work to beat them. You might defeat Jimmy Butler, but you’re not going to out-work him.
Game 1: Saturday, May 22, 1pm Central, ESPN
Game 2: Monday, May 24, 6:30pm Central, TNT
Game 3: Thursday, May 27, 6:30pm Central, TNT
Game 4: Saturday, May 29, 12:30pm Central, TNT