by Matthew Brennan, NBA D-League.com
This Saturday the Bakersfield Jam face the Idaho Stampede, with the action airing on VERSUS at 11 p.m. ET. Here are some good reasons to check out Saturday's NBA D-League game.
Antoine Walker On The Comeback Trail
One of the biggest stories in the NBA D-League this season has been the comeback attempt of Idaho's Antoine Walker. The three-time NBA All-Star joined the Idaho Stampede in early December in a bid to play his way back onto an NBA roster. After being out of action for a while, Walker has had his moments this season while playing in the NBA D-League. The 6-9 forward is currently averaging 16.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 27 games. He'll be looking for a repeat of his last effort against the Jam, a 21-point, eight-rebound performance last Wednesday.
Byars Poised For A GATORADE Call-Up
The Jam have already sent a player to the NBA this season with leading scorer Trey Johnson signing with the Raptors, and Derrick Byars is another talented scorer who can follow in his footsteps with a GATORADE Call-Up. Briefly a member of the Chicago Bulls in 2009, Byars joined Bakersfied in early January and has lit up NBA D-League defenses to the tune of 18.9 points in 16 games. The 6-7 swing-man, who earned NBA D-League Performer of the Week honors last Monday after scoring 43 points in a game, is an athletic scorer who is also a streaky but sometimes devastating outside shooter. He has knocked down four or more three-pointers in four different games this season, including a 6-6 performance on January 18. He will be looking for a better performance against Idaho after being held to just 7-21 shooting in the first meeting between the teams last Wednesday.
Former Stampede Star Moves To The Sidelines
Idaho Stamped head coach Randy Livingston had a memorable playing career with the Stampede. The former LSU star was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 2006-07 while earning a GATORADE Call-Up to the Seattle SuperSonics. He followed that up the next season by leading the Stampede to a championship to cap off his playing career before moving into coaching. After serving as an assistant with Idaho and Maine, Livingston is now in his first season as a head coach with the Stampede. He's helped the team bounce back from a rough start to post a 12-8 record since January 1. His ultimate goal would be to follow in the footsteps of his former Idaho coach Bryan Gates, who parlayed his NBA D-League success with the Stampede into NBA assistant jobs with the New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings.
Idaho's NBA Veterans Looking For Another Call-Up
Walker gets most of the headlines, but the Stampede roster also contains two NBA veterans who have already used the GATORADE Call-Up route to reach the NBA. Point guard Cedric Jackson, fresh off of an appearance in Saturday's All-Star Game, earned call-ups last season to the Cavaliers, Wizards, and Spurs. He's having another solid campaign after joining the Stampede via trade earlier this season. The 6-3 Jackson is averaging 12.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 7.1 assists in the NBA D-League. He is joined in the starting lineup by center Jermareo Davidson, who earned a call-up from the Stampede to the Golden State Warriors during the 2007-08 season. Davidson has returned to Idaho after playing overseas and established himself as one of the league's top centers this season with 16.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He dominated Bakersfield in their last meeting on February 16, tying a season-high with 20 boards while scoring 19 points and blocking three shots. Davidson is one of only two players in the league currently averaging a double-double as well as double-figures in rebounding.
Playoff Race Heating Up
The All-Star break was only a few days ago, but believe it or not we are only five weeks away from the end of the regular season and the NBA D-League playoffs. Both the Stampede and the Jam are in the thick of the playoff race, with Idaho only two games out of the final playoff spot with a 14-20 record. The Stampede have come a long way to even be in the playoff conversation after starting the season with a 2-13 record. They will be looking to get back into the postseason after missing out on 2009-10, their first time without a playoff berth since joining the NBA D-League. The Jam, who have only made one playoff appearance since joining the NBA D-League in 2006, are poised for a return to the playoffs with a 20-13 record. A few more wins could see them threaten for the top record in the NBA D-League, currently held by 23-9 Erie.