By Cody Williams @TheSizzle20 on May 1, 2014
One of the best things about the NBA Playoffs is how unpredictable they are at times. This year more than most, it seems like seeds don’t matter at all and we’re being treated to exciting basketball. We’ve also seen a great deal of both impressive and disappointing individual performances. Given where we are, which 25 players have something to prove from here on out.
With all of the troubling reports concerning Lance Stephenson and his interactions with teammates and so on, you have to wonder if he’ll be able to be the key factor that we saw him be early in the regular season. We’ve praised his progression and maturation, but now he has to prove that it’s not a mirage.
As the Hawks have a series lead over the Pacers, Paul Millsap has the chance to prove quite a bit. He’s always been a respected player in this league, but he now is presented with the opportunity to prove that he can step his game up a notch when it really matters.
There shouldn’t be anything left for Paul Pierce to prove after what he’s accomplished over his career, but this Nets team presents a unique situation for him. As it stands now, Pierce has the chance to prove that he can be a veteran leader and help get a team over the hump in the postseason.
We’ve seen Monta Ellis arguably in the best form of his career with Dallas this season, but now is make-or-break time for the guard. We all know that the talent is there, but in big games against an opponent like San Antonio, Ellis could prove that he has indeed become more valuable than ever before.
More so than anyone could have expected, the Mavs are giving the Spurs all that they can handle. As the Spurs are looking to get to the Finals for the second year in a row, they’re going to need Kawhi Leonard to step up and become more like the star people were proclaiming him as last postseason.
The Thunder are another team stuck in a dogfight in the first round and they need their stars to rise to the occasion. Now is as big of a time as ever for Westbrook to silence doubters that he can’t be the point guard for a championship-caliber team.
David Lee is often criticized for putting up empty stats and being a liability on the defensive end. In a tough matchup against Blake Griffin, he has been and will likely keep getting burned on defense, but he can prove that he still is a valuable piece for the Warriors.
In past years, LeBron James would likely be at the top of this list. He’s had to prove that he can win a title, then prove that he can win a title in a full 82-game season. Now he’s looking to prove that he can three-peat. While that’s a tall task and still something to prove, it’s not as monumental in regards to his legacy as other things he’s had to prove have been.
Jeff Teague and the Hawks have a big upset in mind against the Pacers. However, Teague has to prove that he can consistently be a big-time performer and leader for that to happen, even with Al Horford still out of action. It’s no secret he has major talent, but that doesn’t mean there’s not something left to show.
The Wizards have advanced to the second round after knocking off the bulls and a couple of big games from Trevor Ariza helped them get to this point. However, as he’s still in the middle of somewhat of a redemption project this season, you have to wonder if Ariza can provide the veteran leadership this team needs and prove he’s truly back after a slump of a few years.
Some people might put Stephen Curry higher on this list, but I’m not sure he has as much to prove in this particular year as people may think. Sure, he could step up and lead his team to an upset over the Clippers in their first-round series, but they are going at it without Andrew Bogut, which gives them somewhat of a pass.
As the Raptors now have the advantage in their series against the Nets, there have to be a lot of eyes on DeMar DeRozan. Even with their series lead, it’s hard to ignore that Toronto has shown its inexperience more than once. DeRozan has to be the guy for this team to step up and steady them when things get tough.
After his first two games where he notched 40+ points in both, LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t have much to prove at all. However, with the series now at 3-2 in favor of Portland and a couple of lackluster performances from Aldridge later, the Trail Blazers forward has to prove that he’s really a star and can lead his team to close out this series.
With the Donald Sterling fiasco, the Clippers are facing an incredibly unique situation right now. That being said, Blake Griffin still has to continue to prove what he showed all season; Griffin has to prove that he has made the leap to another level as a cornerstone for the Clips.
For arguably the first time in the series, James Harden showed life after being stifled by the Blazers in the first four games for the most part. With Houston fighting for their playoff-lives, Harden has to rise to the occasion and be the leader that this team needs him to be to avoid elimination.
Mark Jackson isn’t a player anymore, but the Warriors’ head coach still has a great deal to prove. Given the criticism he’s been under this season, you have to imagine he’s under the microscope and is coaching to prove that he deserves to keep his job beyond this year in Golden State.
John Wall has already proved a great deal by advancing out of the first round in his first go at the postseason, but that doesn’t mean there’s still not more to prove. As the biggest piece of this team’s future, Wall still has to prove he can step up and lead them as the moments only get bigger for him and this Wizards team.
Though this Pacers team has been a wreck, Paul George has been the bright spot among them. Even with that, though, George has to prove his leadership with this team and not let them roll over as they face elimination against Atlanta. We know he can play, but him and this Pacers team losing in the first round would be cause for some serious re-evaluation regarding all involved.
The Heat rolled past a hobbled Bobcats team in round one and is waiting to see who their opponent in round two will be. Much of their performance will depend on if Dwyane Wade can prove he’s still got it after being rested to preserve his legs all season.
The Nets are facing elimination against Toronto despite expectations and how this team fought to get back into the playoff mix. Their success or lack thereof will almost certainly be determined by Deron Williams’ play. If he doesn’t step up, this team could disappoint once again.
Another guy who’s not a player, but Scott Brooks has more to prove than most in these playoffs. His Thunder team clearly is more talented than their first-round foes in the Grizzlies, but they haven’t played like it to this point. Facing elimination, Brooks has to prove his chops as a coach by making the right moves to get his team rolling and to get them to advance.
It’s hard to say that Chris Paul has anything to prove considering how good he’s been over his career, but the postseason is a different beast for him to face. The Clippers point guard has to prove that he can lead this talented Clippers team to prosperity in the playoffs, especially with the West seemingly wide open.
Roy Hibbert’s fall from grace has been so dramatic that he’s basically on a trial basis to see if he’s at all effective. At this point, it has to be all mental with the Pacers center. As a result of that, Hibbert has a lot to prove as the big man that this Indiana team is betting on for their future.
Looking at his numbers alone, Dwight Howard has been a force for the Rockets against Portland. However, the big center still faces criticism for not wanting to work in the pick-and-roll and for sometimes taking the Rockets out of their game. If he can prove that he can buy into everything, it will help tremendously.
Kevin Durant proved time and again in the regular season that he’s a legitimate superstar. Now as his team faces elimination and as he’s struggled mightily against Memphis, Durant has to prove that he can step up despite a tough matchup and lead his team to the promise land.
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