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By John Grupp
Saturday, April 23, 2011
 

Pitt basketball fans are paying a little more attention to the NBA playoffs this year.

Three former Panthers — DeJuan Blair, Aaron Gray and Sam Young — are playing significant roles in Western Conference series.

Young, a Memphis Grizzlies small forward, is going against Blair, a power forward for the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs, in the first round. The 7-foot Gray is getting valuable minutes as a backup center for the New Orleans Hornets in their first-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Young, who starts at small forward, has blocked a Blair shot in each of the first two games.

"I can't lie," Young said Friday by phone from Memphis. "I was a little more juiced up. I said to him, 'Don't bring that stuff in my house.' I blocked him twice. We were talking."

Blair couldn't be reached for comment.

Young helped Memphis to the team's first-ever playoff win with a 101-98 victory at San Antonio on Sunday. He scored a team-high 17 points in Memphis' 93-87 loss in Game 2.

Blair, taken one pick after Young in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft, is averaging 5.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Spurs.

Gray, a 2007 second-round pick by the Chicago Bulls, went 5 for 5 from the field and scored 12 points in a 109-100 win at the Lakers in Game 1 on Sunday.

Both series were tied, 1-1, heading into last night.

"I think for years people have been sleeping on Pitt," Young said. "People are starting to open their eyes and see Pitt is a place where pros are developed."

Before this season, only seven former Pitt players had tasted the NBA postseason, dating to Billy Knight 20 years ago.

Young vs. Blair was only the second time two Panthers squared off against each other in the NBA postseason.

The first time hardly counted.

In the 2002, Mark Blount of the Celtics and Vonteego Cummings of the 76ers met in a first-round playoff series. But they never played at the same time; Cummings logged one minute in Game 3 — the only playoff experience of his brief pro career — and Blount played 25 total minutes in Games 4 and 5.

After barely playing during the first half of the season, Gray has become a key member of the Hornets' rotation. He shrugged off a painful ankle sprain to grab eight rebounds in an 87-78 Game 2 loss Wednesday.

"It feels good," Gray said of his ankle. "Obviously, it's not where I'd like it to be, but it's playoff time, and you've got to do whatever you can to help the team."

Additional Information:

Panther postseason

Before this season, only seven former Pitt players had competed in the NBA playoffs. They are:

Billy Knight: 1980-81, 1983-85

Jerome Lane: 1988-90

Charles Smith: 1992-96

Mark Blount: 2001-05

Vonteego Cummings: 2002

Aaron Gray: 2009

DeJuan Blair: 2010

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