As teams prepare for the final stretch of the regular season, look for several players to get hot before the playoffs.
One example is John Wall, who continued his recent hot streak with 30 points, 10 assists and three rebounds in a 123-113 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. Wall is averaging 23.2 points, 10.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds over five games in the month of March as the Washington Wizards battle for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
There are plenty more players getting hot at the right time. Here are eight who come to mind.
In the nine games that Kevin Love has missed while recovering from knee surgery, Irving has shouldered more of the offensive load for the Cleveland Cavaliers, including a 43-point performance in a win against the Atlanta Hawks last week.
Irving is averaging 34.3 points over three games in the month of March and 30.8 points in six games since the All-Star break. With Love expected to miss at least three more weeks, it’s imperative for Irving to continue his hot scoring streak as the Cavaliers try to hang onto first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Spurs have pulled out some close wins in the month of March, and Leonard deserves a lot of the credit for his stellar play at both ends of the floor. That was never more apparent than on Monday night when he drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer and then blocked James Harden’s shot on back-to-back possessions to seal a 112-100 victory over the Houston Rockets.
Leonard finished with 39 points against the Rockets, his fourth consecutive game with 30 points or more. He is averaging 33.8 points over four games in the month of March, not to mention 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.3 steals.
If the Charlotte Hornets don’t make the playoffs, it’s not Walker’s fault. In addition to having his best season yet, the 26-year-old is averaging 28.8 points over his last five games, and has shot close to 45 percent from 3-point range during that span. What more can you ask from your star player?
Beal has been on fire. After scoring 23 points against the Nuggets on Wednesday night, the 23-year-old has a streak of eight straight games with over 20 points. His scoring along with Wall’s playmaking have made the Wizards a tough team to beat as of late. Washington has won five of its last six games and is only one game behind the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.
Not only has James stepped up offensively with Love sidelined, but he has also picked up the slack on the boards for the Cavaliers, including a season-high 17 rebounds in a loss to the Miami Heat on Monday night. He continues to be a reliable playmaker as well, dishing out close to nine assists per game.
With Russell Westbrook and James Harden getting so much of the attention for MVP this season, it’s easy to forget that James is in the conversation as well.
There’s still a chance of the Minnesota Timberwolves making the playoffs this year, and Towns is doing everything in his power to make it happen, including playing a little more than 38 minutes per game since the All-Star break, which ranks second behind Westbrook. The extended minutes have allowed Towns to put up some monster numbers. Over his previous three games, he is averaging 24.7 points and 14.3 rebounds.
With any luck, the Timberwolves can knock out the Denver Nuggets from the final playoff spot in the Western Conference before it’s too late.
Not that the third-place Rockets need any more help getting into the playoffs, but Harden has played extremely well in the month of March. Despite coming out on the losing end of a thriller against the Spurs, Harden had 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting. It marked the second time in three games that The Beard had 30-plus points while shooting 60 percent or better.
It’s safe to say that Harden is ready to make some noise in the playoffs.
We sometimes forget that Conley is one of the best point guards in the NBA because he plays in a small market, but he has been in a groove for the Memphis Grizzlies since the All-Star break. Over his last six games, Conley is averaging 25.8 points while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor and 45.7 percent from 3-point range. This also happens to be Conley’s best season yet for scoring after an injury-plagued campaign last year.