When Lauri Markannen signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the offseason, the chances of him finally making the NBA Playoffs didn’t look particularly good. But then he helped Cleveland to its most regular-season wins since the final year of the second LeBron James era and had his team one win away from getting into the main playoff field.
Despite 26 points from Markannen, though, Cleveland lost 107-101 at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, giving Atlanta the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and putting the Cavs into offseason mode.
Markannen would have been the sixth former Arizona player on a roster for the 2022 NBA Playoffs and the only one competing in the East. Instead he’ll be like all of us and watching these ex-Wildcats from the couch:
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Ayton guided Phoenix to a franchise-record 64 wins as well as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The 4th-year center averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds while shooting a career-high 63.4 percent in the final season of his rookie contract.
The Suns opted not to offer Ayton a max extension before the season, making him a restricted free agent after the playoffs. If he gets Phoenix into the NBA Finals again, and maybe wins it all this time, Ayton could command big money on the market.
Phoenix opens first-round play Sunday at home against the eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans.
Aaron Gordon and Zeke Nnaji, Denver Nuggets
Denver earned the No. 6 seed in the West after being third in 2021 and making the Conference Finals (where it was swept by the Suns). This time around, the Nuggets start out on the road, visiting the third-seeded Golden State Warriors beginning Saturday night.
Gordon, in his first full season with Denver, averaged 15 points (his most since 2018-19 with the Orlando Magic) and shot a career-best 52 percent. Nnaji, in his second year in the NBA, played in 41 games with one start and averaged 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds but missed 21 straight games with bilateral knee soreness before logging 26 minutes in the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nnaji got into five playoff games last season, and if he’s healthy he could see more time, while Gordon has started every game he’s played for the Nuggets.
Josh Green, Dallas Mavericks
Green played in 67 of Dallas’ 82 regular season games, starting three, and shot better than 50 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from 3-point range. His contributions helped the Mavericks win the Southwest Division and earn the No. 4 seed in the West, which comes with a pairing against the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz.
In his second season, Green is hoping to help Dallas win its first playoff series since winning the NBA title in 2011. The Mavericks have dropped six consecutive series, including in 2021 when they fell in seven to the Los Angeles Clippers and Green only got into one game for a little more than four minutes.
Andre Iguoudala, Golden State Warriors
The ageless Igoudala, who turned 38 in January, will be making his 15th playoff appearance in 18 NBA seasons but first with Golden State since 2018-19. Iggy’s 170 career playoff games played in ranks 24th in NBA history, and depending on how far the Warriors go he could get to as high as 11th on that list this spring.
He only played in 31 games during the regular season, all off the bench, averaging career lows in points (4.0) and minutes (19.5) due to lingering injuries including a bad hip. If he can go, though, expect Iguodala to give it his all with the chance for a fourth ring.
Golden State, coached by former Arizona star Steve Kerr, is the No. 3 seed in the West and hosts No. 6 Denver starting Saturday night.