There are no franchise players from the state of Michigan in this year’s NBA playoffs, but there are a handful of guys who could help sway a series or two in favor of their team. Let’s rank the players with the best chance at getting a championship.
1. Shane Battier, Miami Heat: The Detroit Country Day and Duke University product hasn’t had a great season by his standards, shooting 39 percent from the field (a career low) and 34 percent from 3-point range (the second worst mark of his career). He’s been worse in the playoffs so far, hitting just 32 percent of his shots overall and 27 percent of his threes. But he’s still a heady defensive player and, by playing for a team in Miami that should have little trouble getting back to the Finals after injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah may have torpedoes Chicago’s season, Battier is Michigan’s best chance at a championship this season.
2 (tie). Al Horford and Willie Green, Atlanta Hawks: I thought the Hawks might be energized by the return of Horford, a former Grand Ledge standout and high school Class A Player of the Year. It didn’t really materialize, to say the least. Horford, one of the top centers in the league, missed most of this season with an injury. He returned and played 20 minutes in yesterday’s 101-79 loss to Boston. Horford didn’t fare too badly, getting 12 points (6-for-10 shooting) and five rebounds in 20 minutes. The Hawks are now down 3-to-1 in the series, but if they can miraculously pull off a comeback and win this series, with No. 1 seed Chicago most likely going down in the first round (they are down 3-to-1 as well and are minus Rose and Noah for game five), this might be the best shot Atlanta has had of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in their recent string of playoff appearances. Green, a former Detroit Cooley and University of Detroit star, is a reserve guard for the Hawks who is averaging 3.3 points per game in four playoff games this season.
4 (tie). Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets: Like the Hawks, the Nuggets find themselves down 3-to-1 in a series they’ve been really competitive in. A late Lakers surge last night put L.A. up commandingly in the series last night after the Nuggets looked pretty formidable when winning game three. A big reason for that competitiveness has been McGee, a Flint native. McGee’s speed forces L.A.’s more traditional, bigger, frontcourt players to chase him all over the court while his shot-blocking ability has made it difficult for the Lakers to get good looks inside. He’s still provided his share of trademark OMG! plays — last night, he bit hard on an Andrew Bynum pump fake, but instead of making contact with Bynum, nearly jumped directly over the 7-footer and forced Bynum into a travel — as well. Chandler, a former Mr. Basketball from Benton Harbor, hasn’t played in the series due to injury, which is unfortunate because he’s another big, strong perimeter defender Denver could throw at Kobe Bryant.
6. Jason Richardson, Orlando Magic: For a brief moment, Richardson and the Magic looked like they could pull off an improbable upset, taking out the higher-seeded Indiana Pacers despite missing franchise center Dwight Howard from the lineup. Richardson, a Saginaw Arthur Hill and Michigan State grad, is only shooting 39 percent from the field in the playoffs against Indiana’s lanky perimeter defenders, but he is hitting a solid 38 percent of his 3-pointers, an important part of Orlando’s offense. Orlando has been more competitive than most expected, but down 3-to-1 and missing Howard, it’s obviously a longshot that they’d be able to get out of the first round.