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Eight former Wildcats still living the bubble life as NBA Playoffs start
NBA postseason

Eight former Wildcats still living the bubble life as NBA Playoffs start

The eight-game regular season in the NBA “bubble” at Walt Disney World in Orlando concluded over the weekend. Now? Some of the most highly-anticipated playoff matchups will take place this week, and some of them feature former Arizona Wildcats.

Unfortunately for the Phoenix Suns (and perhaps the Lakers since the red-hot — and healthy — Trail Blazers are a tough first-round bout), winning all eight contests behind Devin Booker’s 30 points per game didn’t meet the requirements to play for the final playoff spot, and Portland sealed their postseason fate against the Grizzlies on Saturday.

With the Suns leaving Orlando, former No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton joined Sacramento Kings coaches Luke Walton and Jesse Mermuys as ex-Wildcats to participate in the “bubble” and miss the playoffs.

These other former Wildcats — six players and two coaches — will look to help their respective teams through the first-ever NBA playoff stretch where home-court advantage is nonexistent, which begins on Monday.

Andre Iguodala, Heat

Former Arizona Wildcat Andre Iguodala, left, brings plenty of postseason experience to the Heat. Miami opens with Indiana.

2019-20 stats: 4.6 ppg (43.2%), 3.7 rpg, 2.4 apg

The rundown: Iguodala continues to be the veteran Wildcat to carry the Lute Olson legacy torch in the NBA. As the only Olson disciple left in the NBA, Iguodala is in position to be a much-needed player with championship experience on a Heat team that is capable of making a deep run with a blend of All-Stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, up-and-coming inexperienced talent and multi-year vets.

Iguodala totaled 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in back-to-back games against the Bucks and Suns, but was limited in his final two games and sat out the season finale versus Indiana.

He said it: “You can’t put an analytic to his game with how many different ways he can impact your team in regards to winning. You have to have him in your locker room and see him out on the floor to truly understand. Every coach in this league recognizes he is a winner because he does so many winning things.” — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra

Schedule

Tuesday: No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 Indiana (1 p.m./TNT)

Thursday: No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 Indiana (10 a.m./ESPN)

Saturday: No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Miami (12:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 24: No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Miami (3:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 26: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 28: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 30: If necessary (TBD)

Solomon Hill, Heat

Miami Heat forward Solomon Hill (44) dribbles against the Indiana Pacers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

2019-20 stats: 4.5 ppg (31.1%), 1.9 rpg, 1.1 spg

The rundown: Even though Hill is considered a new player after he was dealt to the Heat by Memphis in February, he’s been with the team for six months. In the bubble, the small forward played in five games, but didn’t play more than 17 minutes until the final two games of the season. Hill scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 40 minutes in Miami’s loss to the Pacers on Friday.

He said it: “It’s a step in the right direction, but there can be so much more done when you’re talking about the whole makeup of the NBA and how we hold people accountable.” — Hill on how the NBA has responded to social justice

Schedule

Tuesday: No. 5 Miami Heat vs. No. 4 Indiana Pacers (1 p.m./TNT)

Thursday: No. 5 Miami Heat vs. No. 4 Indiana Pacers (10 a.m./ESPN)

Saturday: No. 4 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 Miami Heat (12:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 24: No. 4 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 Miami Heat (3:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 26: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 28: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 30: If necessary (TBD)

T.J. McConnell, Pacers

Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) dribbles past Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn (25) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

2019-20 stats: 6.5 ppg (51.6%), 5 apg, 2.7 rpg

The rundown: The point guard has been one of the best soundbites during the bubble when he was mic’d up in the Pacers’ game against the Lakers. Whether it was jokingly telling an official to not say anything incriminating, because of the mic, or referring to T.J. Warren as “Three-J Scorin’,” McConnell has been a bright spot for Indiana. He’s also contributed on the court with a 39:15 assist-to-turnover ratio in the bubble. With Warren’s latest stretch, which consisted of a 53-point performance and three 30-plus-point games, the Pacers could be a force in the playoffs.

He said it: “Going to dinner, the pool, fishing – even though I’m not a big fisherman. I golfed. You might have seen the video. My swing is brutal.” — McConnell on activities he’s tried in the bubble via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Schedule

Tuesday: No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 Indiana (1 p.m./TNT)

Thursday: No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 Indiana (10 a.m./ESPN)

Saturday: No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Miami (12:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 24: No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Miami (3:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 26: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 28: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 30: If necessary (TBD)

Aaron Gordon, Magic

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) is defended by Indiana Pacers forward JaKarr Sampson (14) and forward Justin Holiday (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

2019-20 stats: 14.4 ppg (43.7%), 7.7 apg, 3.7 rpg

The rundown: The highest-paid Wildcat currently in the league missed the final four games of the season due to a hamstring injury he suffered after a controversial collision with Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. Gordon told reporters over the weekend that he will be ready for the Magic’s first-round matchup against the top-seeded Bucks. The results from the regular season don’t bode well, because the Bucks swept Orlando by an average margin of 17 points; Gordon averaged nine points in those games. Gordon will now have to defend reigning league MVP and arguably the top player in the world right now, Giannis Antetokounmpo, in a seven-game series. Without power forward and former first-round pick Jonathan Isaac, who is out with a torn ACL, Gordon will have a tall task this week.

He said it: “836 is my room number!” — Lowry to Gordon in the back-and-forth verbal altercation following their collision

Schedule

Tuesday: No. 8 Orlando vs. No. 1 Milwaukee (10:30 a.m./TNT)

Thursday: No. 8 Orlando vs. No. 1 Milwaukee (3 p.m./ESPN)

Saturday: No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando

Aug. 24: No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando

Aug. 26: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 28: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 30: If necessary (TBD)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Raptors 

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) shoots against Toronto Raptors' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (4) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

2019-20 stats: 7 ppg (47.1%), 4.7 rpg, 1.8 apg

The rundown: It was uncertain how the Raptors would fare this season after essentially renting Kawhi Leonard for one year to win a championship before he joined the Clippers. No “Claw,” no problem. Toronto has a defensive efficiency rating of 104.7, the second-highest in the league, and the Raptors went 7-1 in the “bubble” season. The Raptors’ smothering defense is one of the reasons Nick Nurse is a finalist for NBA’s Coach of the Year Award. Hollis-Jefferson on the other hand has been productive in a few games for the Raptors this season, including an 11-point, 5-rebound outing in just over 26 minutes against the Bucks. Maybe the “Shim Reaper” can help Toronto deep into the playoffs and earn another contract north of the border, which is set to expire in the offseason? This will be Hollis-Jefferson’s second trip to the playoffs. His first was last season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, the team Toronto has to face this week.

He said it: “Unity is big in our world and we need it more than ever. The impact to create change...it starts with us, it starts with you guys.” — Hollis-Jefferson on maintaining the social equality message throughout the playoffs

Schedule

Monday: No. 7 Brooklyn vs. No. 2 Toronto (1 p.m./ESPN)

Wednesday: No. 7 Brooklyn vs. No. 2 Toronto (10:30 a.m./NBATV)

Friday: No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn (10:30 a.m./NBATV)

Sunday: No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn (3:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 25: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 27: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 29: If necessary (TBD)

Stanley Johnson, Raptors

Toronto Raptors' Stanley Johnson (5) goes up for a basket against Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle (22) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

2019-20 stats: 2.4 ppg (37.3%), 1.5 rpg, 0.8 apg

The rundown: Ignore the season statistics for a brief moment. Stanley Johnson is the reason Toronto just posted its winningest season in franchise history. Here’s why: Johnson’s buzzer-beating game-winner against the Philadelphia 76ers gave the Raptors a 53-19 (73.6%) record, the highest win percentage ever recorded by Toronto. He may not see much action in the postseason, but Johnson’s 23 points to wrap up the season was a highlight.

He said it: “I think we’re a really loaded team … so getting a chance to practice with these guys and practice with them every night as I have, you just have a certain respect. I feel like I always had confidence in myself.” — Johnson to Toronto Sports Network following his game-winning shot against the Sixers

Schedule

Monday: No. 7 Brooklyn vs. No. 2 Toronto (1 p.m./ESPN)

Wednesday: No. 7 Brooklyn vs. No. 2 Toronto (10:30 a.m./NBATV)

Friday: No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn (10:30 a.m./NBATV)

Sunday: No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn (3:30 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 25: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 27: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 29: If necessary (TBD)

Miles Simon, Lakers

 Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Miles Simon during a NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers on January 31, 2019 at STAPLES Center.

The rundown: Initially part of Luke Walton’s UA-heavy coaching staff, Simon was the only former Wildcat to stay on Frank Vogel’s staff. This will be Simon’s first time experiencing NBA playoffs.

Schedule

Tuesday: No. 8 Portland vs. No. 1 L.A. Lakers (6 p.m./TNT)

Thursday: No. 8 Portland vs. No. 1 L.A. Lakers (6 p.m./ESPN)

Saturday: No. 1 L.A. Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland (5:30 p.m./ABC)

Aug. 24: No. 1 L.A. Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland (6 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 26: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 28: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 30: If necessary (TBD)

Matt Brase, Rockets

Matt Brase, now an assistant to Mike D’Antoni in Houston, led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to an NBA D-League Western Conference title.

The rundown: The Catalina Foothills High School and UA product is in his second season on Mike D’Antoni’s staff.

Schedule

Tuesday: No. 5 Oklahoma City vs. No. 4 Houston Rockets (3:30 p.m./TNT)

Thursday: No. 5 Oklahoma City vs. No. 4 Houston (12:30 p.m./ESPN)

Saturday: No. 4 Houston vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City (3 p.m./ESPN)

Aug. 24: No. 4 Houston vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City (1 p.m./TNT)

Aug. 26: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 28: If necessary (TBD)

Aug. 30: If necessary (TBD)

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Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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