SEVEN AUSSIES SET TO CONTEND IN THE 2018 NBA PLAYOFFS

SEVEN AUSSIES SET TO CONTEND IN THE 2018 NBA PLAYOFFS

Following an 82-game regular season, seven Australians are still standing in the NBA as the competition turns to the playoffs for the next two months.

Aron Baynes- Boston Celtics
2nd in the East Conference

The Celtics began the season with one of the most intimidating starting line-ups but head into the playoffs without their two superstars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. They continue to put wins on the board though and finished the regular season with a 55-27 record, good for fourth in the league.

Baynes has enjoyed a solid season with Boston, playing 81 games to average six points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He has no fear of getting in the road of an oncoming dunk to either take a charge or block the shot and while that has resulted in Baynes featuring in his fair share of posters, it is a significant reason why his Celtics team mates and fans adore him.

At the offensive end of the floor, the centre has suddenly found a three-point shot as well and while it is unlikely we will see much of it in the post-season, it can be a handy weapon to pull out late in the shot clock. Baynes also heads into the post-season in strong form having recorded a career-high 26 points and season-high 14 rebounds in just 20 minutes against Brookyln in the last game of the regular season. He now prepares for a match-up against Milwaukee, a team featuring two fellow Aussies.

First Round Series: Boston vs. Milwaukee (all times AEST)

Game 1- Monday 16th April at 3am
Game 2- Wednesday 18th April at 10am
Game 3- Saturday 21st April at 11.30am
Game 4- Monday 23rd April at 3am
Game 5 (if necessary)- Wednesday 25th April
Game 6 (if necessary)- Friday 27th April
Game 7 (if necessary)- Sunday 29th April

Ben Simmons- Philadelphia 76ers
3rd in East Conference

Simmons was most likely on track to win the 2017/18 Rookie of the Year award but his and the Sixers incredible finish to the regular season surely has sewn up the honour. Philadelphia enter their first playoff series since 2011/12 on a 16-game winning streak and Simmons has averaged 18 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 2.5 steals since the start of April while recording 15.9 points, 8.2 boards, 8.2 assists and 1.8 steals overall.

Shooting 55% from the field, his ability to get to the rim has ensured he has not needed a three-point shot and the rookie has carried the Sixers down the stretch of the regular season with centre Joel Embiid injured. Embiid is also expected to miss the first round against Miami, a team Philadelphia split their four-game season series against.

The Sixers' recent form will have them installed as heavy favourites heading into this weekend's match-up though while Simmons stands in Miami's way, having recorded a triple-double against the Heat and averaging 14.8 points, eight rebounds, 7.3 dimes, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks.

First Round Series: Philadelphia vs. Miami (all times AEST)

Game 1- Sunday 15th April at 10am
Game 2- Tuesday 17th April at 10am
Game 3- Friday 20th April at 9am
Game 4- Sunday 22nd April at 4.30am
Game 5 (if necessary)- Wednesday 25th April
Game 6 (if necessary)- Friday 27th April
Game 7 (if necessary)- Sunday 29th April

Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker- Milwaukee Bucks
7th in East Conference

The Bucks had a chance to finish sixth in the East with a win over Philadelphia in their last game of the regular season but they were never in the contest, losing by 35 after trailing by over 40 in the first half. That now sets up a clash against Boston in the first round with Delly and Maker aiming to knock fellow Aussie Aron Baynes out of the Championship race.

It has been a frustrating season for Dellavedova who has only played in 38 games and just one since February 4. That one game was the last game of the regular season though which hopefully means he will find some more court time once the Bucks hit the playoffs.

Maker has also had his ups-and-downs through 2017/18. After averaging 20 minutes per game through December, his numbers have dropped with only 11.5 minutes of game-time since the start of March. However, his stats are up across the board compared to his rookie season with 4.8 points and three rebounds and if Maker can get on the court through the first round series against the Celtics, he could find himself in a direct battle on the boards with Baynes.

First Round Opponent: Boston vs. Milwaukee (all times AEST)

Game 1- Monday 16th April at 3am
Game 2- Wednesday 18th April at 10am
Game 3- Saturday 21st April at 11.30am
Game 4- Monday 23rd April at 3am
Game 5 (if necessary)- Wednesday 25th April
Game 6 (if necessary)- Friday 27th April
Game 7 (if necessary)- Sunday 29th April

Joe Ingles and Dante Exum- Utah Jazz
5th in West Conference

The rise of Ingles has continued this season after he showcased one of the best three-point shooting strokes in the league through 2016/17. This year, his aim has remained true as he finished fifth in the competition at 43.9% while making the tenth most amount of three's with 203 (a Utah Jazz single-season record). An underrated part of his game though has been his improved passing with his assist numbers bumping up from 2.7 per game to 4.8 this season and he has recorded four double-doubles with 11.5 points per game overall. Ingles' season has him in the running for the Most Improved Player of the Year award.

Returning earlier than most expected from a shoulder injury suffered in the pre-season, Exum looks as effective as ever with 8.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists over 13 games. He is shooting 49% from the field and has also picked up a steal in four out of his past six contests with the length he provides in the back court for the Jazz a crucial aspect of their second unit.

Utah have been on a tear in the second half of the season, putting together two nine-game winning streaks in February and March while they also won their last six before falling to Portland in the final game of the regular season. However, their poor start to the year still haunted them in the end as a loss to Portland on the last day of the regular season saw a chance to finish third slip with the Jazz now set for a series against Oklahoma City without home court advantage.

First Round Series: Oklahoma City vs. Utah (all times AEST)

Game 1- Monday 16th April at 8.30am
Game 2- Thursday 19th April at 10am
Game 3- Sunday 22nd April at 12pm
Game 4- Tuesday 24th April at 12.30pm
Game 5 (if necessary)- Thursday 26th April
Game 6 (if necessary)- Saturday 28th April
Game 7 (if necessary)- Monday 30th April

Patty Mills- San Antonio Spurs
7th in East Conference

While reaching the playoffs for a record 21st consecutive season (the longest current streak in American professional sports), the Spurs have not had a convincing season with their star Kawhi Leonard absent for over 70 games. That has forced coach Gregg Popovich to change his starting line-up around frequently but in the past month, he looks to have settled with Patty Mills as the starting shooting guard.

The only San Antonio player to feature in every game through the regular season, Mills has been a consistent performer for the team and remains a cult hero in the city in his seventh campaign with the Spurs. Mills has averaged double-figures in scoring for the first time since 2013/14 and before a scoreless performance in the last game of the regular season, he had scored 11+ points in seven straight games.

In four meetings against Golden State this year, Mills has drained 8-23 (35%) from beyond the arc but with the Warriors expected to be missing Steph Curry for the first round, the perimeter may be more open for Mills to let it fly.

First Round Series: Golden State vs. San Antonio (all times AEST)

Game 1- Sunday 15th April at 5am
Game 2- Tuesday 17th April at 12.30pm
Game 3- Friday 20th April at 11.30am
Game 4- Monday 24th April at 5.30am
Game 5 (if necessary)- Wednesday 25th April
Game 6 (if necessary)- Friday 27th April
Game 7 (if necessary)- Sunday 29th April

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