NBA Playoffs: Each Team’s Most Important Player Going Into the Postseason

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Each Team's Most Important Player Going Into the Postseason

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Playoffs are near and each team is getting set to find out who they will be matched up with in the first round. There are plenty of exciting story lines developing regarding that first round, starting with whether or not Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers will end up making it to the big stage to take on the San Antonio Spurs.

Everybody wants to know who, if anybody, can dethrone the seemingly unbeatable Miami Heat. Will it be the New York Knicks, the Indiana Pacers or an under-the-radar dark horse?

Will Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder be able to get past the Spurs this year, if San Antonio does indeed make it to the Western Conference Finals?

Can Carmelo Anthony keep this unbelievable streak going, scoring points like he's playing against WNBA defenses?

With all these questions, one of the more interesting story lines is going to be which player needs to step up the most for each team. We all know that LeBron James is going to be the man in Miami every single night. Nobody needs to tell you that.

Kobe Bryant will undoubtedly be the most talented player on the court for the Lakers if they were to make it into the postseason, but who will have to take on the role of the most important player for them to make it past the first round?

With all of the injuries the Chicago Bulls have endured, who will step up for coach Tom Thibodeau now that Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah appear to be done for the season?

I will attempt to answer these questions as well as predict who the most important player is going to be for each playoff team heading into the first round.

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Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This may not be the guy you would have picked. With offensive-minded guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings on the team, most would have picked one of those guys as the most important player for the Milwaukee Bucks heading into the postseason.

But, as we all know, the playoffs are a different ball game. It gets physical. Defense needs to be played at a high level night in and night out. That is the biggest reason Larry Sanders is my guy here. With teams playing at a much more physical pace, Sanders will need to be the guy to hold down the paint on both ends of the floor. Rebounding will be key. Blocks will be a luxury the Bucks will need to have from him. But most of all, he cannot afford to get in foul trouble and cost the Bucks one of their premier defenders.

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Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics have still not taken losses easily this year. Not to mention, they are playing without star point guard Rajon Rondo and continue to play well enough to win games.

Pierce is going to be the most important player for the Celtics in the playoffs because of his scoring ability and playoff experience. Not only will he need to score quite a bit more in the playoffs, but he will be a guide for some of the role players that do not have as much experience in the postseason. Garnett and Jason Terry will both be important guys as well, but Pierce knows this has been his team for years and he will need to show it.

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Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith

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Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Smith will be the most important player for the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs with two motives in mind. First of all, he wants to win a championship just like everybody else playing in the NBA. This motivation will have to drive him to take the Hawks as far as he can get them.

Secondly, with his name being on the trading block for what seems like every year, he will be out to prove he is deserving of a large contract if he does indeed end up on a new team eventually.

In any event, Smith is such a versatile player that will need to be great in every area of the game. He has the ability to score when he wants, but consistency is the key. He is an elite defender when he puts his mind to it, so again consistency will be the key for him. If he can play well enough in both areas, the Hawks will be a tough team to beat in a long series. But, that is a big “if.”

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Chicago Bulls: Carlos Boozer

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With so many injuries racking up for the Chicago Bulls, there has been one or two constants this year. One of those constants is power forward Carlos Boozer, who has had by far his best year as a Bull. Boozer has been a very consistent scorer and rebounder for Chicago this season.

The Bulls may be playing extended time without big men Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, therefore it is imperative that Boozer steps up and continues his excellent season. On the defensive end, Boozer has shown improvement as well. He will need to be aggressive as ever in the playoffs, as I’m sure he knows playoff basketball will surely be more of a physical game than the regular season.

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Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets have had an up and down season to say the least. They have enjoyed some clutch play from Joe Johnson and great post play from Brook Lopez. Where their struggle has come is at the point guard position.

Deron Williams has been on a mission for most of the past month or two in effort to prove he is still at the top of the NBA in terms of elite point guard play. He is going to need to be every bit of elite in the playoffs for the Nets to have success in the postseason.

As of right now, they are in line to play the Chicago Bulls who are a physical team defensively. Williams will have an advantage though, due to the banged up Kirk Hinrich and undersized Nate Robinson. He will need to be stellar in every aspect of the word if they are going to make it out of the first round.

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Indiana Pacers: Paul George

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Michael Hickey-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers know that they will get solid play from their two important bigs in David West and Roy Hibbert. Defensively, they are one of the best tandems in the league down low. Hibbert is a rebounding and shot blocking machine while West is also a great rebounder but more of an offensive threat.

With Danny Granger out for the rest of the year, his successor Paul George will need to be at his best. George leads the team in scoring right around 18 points per game but will need to get above 20 in the playoffs. Playoff basketball is much different, but George has the skill set to compete in such an environment.

George is a long and athletic guy that can guard just about any position. This makes him invaluable on defense for the Pacers when dealing with screens and switches. On offense, he will need to use his body to get into the paint and consistently finish at the hoop instead of settling for jumpers more often.

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New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Is this a secret? Carmelo Anthony has been on fire as of late and the New York Knicks will need every bit of that spark they can get in the playoffs. J.R. Smith will certainly provide an offensive lift, but whether or not he will do it consistently is another question. Anthony will need to be at his best on both ends of the floor, specifically shooting the ball.

Showing his ability to create and make a shot anywhere and anytime, Anthony is in the midst of making a statement that he and his Knicks are for real. If they are going to have a shot at knocking off the Miami Heat or competing with the Indiana Pacers, both great defensive squads, Anthony will need to continue his consistently excellent play.

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Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest. You know what you’re going to get night in and night out from LeBron James. He will be the star of the show typically every game. He’s consistently great in three categories on the stat sheet. He’s a great defender.

The most important player for the Miami Heat in the playoffs will without a doubt be Dwyane Wade. Will he be healthy? Will he be effective if healthy? Those are two huge questions for Wade. He is an absolute must-have for the Heat in the playoffs. If he is not healthy, nor performing at a high level, James won’t be able to do it on his own.

Chris Bosh and the role players will not be able to do it all, either. With elite defensive teams in the East like the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, it will be tough for the other guys to consistently perform well. The playoffs are where the Heat need Wade to step up and be healthy.

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Los Angeles Lakers: Dwight Howard

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

If the Los Angeles Lakers wind up in the playoffs, the most important player to their team is not Kobe Bryant. They understand that Kobe will show up. He’s been there a few times, believe it or not.

The most important player for the Lakers will be center Dwight Howard. While Howard has been phenomenal on the boards this season, his offensive game has been lacking at times. Consistency in scoring the ball will be demanded of him in the postseason. He absolutely must score a minimum of 15 points per game if the Lakers are going to go anywhere.

Defensively, it is time for him to make other players scared to drive on him again. He must establish his presence in the paint for the Lakers to have a prayer at stopping any offense in the playoffs.

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Utah Jazz: Paul Millsap

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If the Utah Jazz were to hold on and make it into the playoffs, their versatile forward Paul Millsap may indeed have to do it all for them to get out of the first round. Millsap is a great defender, grabbing a steal or two every game and also playing well enough on the boards to suffice.

Offensively, he may need to be the guy. He has the ability to knock down jumpers. He can also post up and finish at the hole. If Millsap does not perform well in every single possession on both sides of the ball, the Jazz will not have a chance to do a thing in the postseason.

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Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets guard James Harden is unquestionably the best player on the team. Offensively, he is an enormous threat to go off at any given moment. What the Rockets will need the most in the playoffs is for the young point guard Jeremy Lin to play his best basketball of the season if they are going to go very far.

Lin has been productive this year offensively, and will need to continue to be productive on that end of the court. The offense will start with him. Making the best decisions with the ball is going to go a mile for Lin if he can do that.

Defensively, Lin will need to step it up. He’s not the greatest defender out of all the point guards in the playoffs, so the Rockets will need him to play the best he is capable of on that end. If Lin can set up his teammates with the best looks available, while also attacking as he sees fit, the Rockets are a threat in the West.

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Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors are out to show the NBA that they are serious contenders for a championship. Part of the reason why they are in this position is because of the play of guard Stephen Curry.

Curry has been incredible this year, scoring almost at will at times. We all remember his ridiculous three-point shooting spree against the New York Knicks in a losing effort earlier this season. With that type of ability, he will need to be on his “A’’ game for the Warriors to continue having success into the postseason. Curry is capable of filling it up any given night, and his teammates are going to need him to do it more often than not starting in the first round.

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Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

With the Memphis Grizzlies still somewhat riding underneath most people’s radars, the playoffs are a perfect time for them to wake everybody up. The Grizzlies are a tough team, especially down low. Alongside center Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies’ most crucial player going into the playoffs will be Zach Randolph.

Randolph is a feisty big man down low. He is an excellent rebounder and an offensive threat both inside the paint and even a few feet outside of it. In the playoffs, he will need to be at his best and the offense will certainly need to start around him touching the ball. If Randolph can prove he is still one of the better and often overlooked power forwards in the league, Memphis has a chance to go far in the postseason.

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Los Angeles Clippers: Jamal Crawford

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fairly obvious that the Los Angeles Clippers rely heavily on the play of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I have no doubt in my mind that they will perform at a high level in the postseason. What may be the most important factor in the Clippers making it to the finals is the play of sixth man Jamal Crawford.

Crawford has been outstanding offensively this year for the Clippers. In the playoffs, they will depend on him even more because a lot of the focus will be on Paul and Griffin on the offensive end. Crawford is going to need to give Los Angeles a minimum of around 18 points a game if they are going to succeed in going to the finals.

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Denver Nuggets: Andre Iguodala

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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With Danilo Gallinari out for the rest of the season, the fate of the Denver Nuggets lies even more on the shoulders of veteran Andre Iguodala. The Nuggets have a great team as a whole with many players who contribute in their specific area of expertise, but Iguodala is one of the guys who can do it all.

The Nuggets are going to need excellent outputs from Iguodala on the offensive and defensive end. He has always had the ability to score a few different ways, but come playoff time he will need to readjust his level of aggressiveness.

On defense he may be responsible for guarding guys like Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant, a tall task for anyone to handle. Iguodala has the physical tools in order to complete such a difficult job, and he will need to do so if the Nuggets are to get anywhere in the West.

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant is without a doubt the best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you don’t know that this is his team by now, I’m not sure what Thunder squad you’ve been watching. He will perform well in the postseason. Everybody knows that.

What we don’t know is whether or not his sidekick and point guard Russell Westbrook will do the same. At times, Westbrook has been spectacular. At his full potential, he can get to the rim whenever he wants and finish. Other times, he is seen taking way too many jump shots and forcing some bad decisions.

If the Thunder want to make it out of the West and into the Finals, Westbrook is going to have to be consistent in every aspect of his game.

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San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard

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Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs know what they’re going to get from their big three when healthy. That is why their X-Factor so to speak will be young swingman Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard has proven to be an incredibly important piece of the puzzle for head coach Gregg Popovich this year. He has gotten more playing time because he deserves it. Being able to knock down jumpers when called upon and also defending his man at a high level, Leonard is going to be as important as anybody going into the playoffs.

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