5 Players With Most to Prove: Western Conference

Posted by Kenneth Teape on Saturday, April 19, 2014 with No comments
The NBA Playoffs are finally upon us, and there are some teams and players with something to prove. Younger players making their much anticipated first appearances in the postseason and even some veterans that still have something to prove in their stored careers. There are plenty of viable picks that could be made, but here are my top five players and teams that have something to prove in the postseason in the Western Conference.

Stephen Curry, Point Guard, Golden State Warriors: Curry has quickly become one of the top point guards in the NBA, combining a lethal jump shot with high basketball IQ to turn him into a trusted floor leader. With this come heightened expectations.

Jeff Chiu/AP Photo
Curry is the leader of one of the more up-and-down teams this season in the Warriors. Injuries plagued them throughout the year, as starting big men David Lee and Andrew Bogut both missed time throughout the season. That complicated things for the Warriors, who are thin up front when Lee and Bogut are healthy. Lee is going to be available for the playoffs, but Bogut will already miss some time with an injured rib.

The onus will then fall upon Curry to carry this team in the postseason. Being the face of the franchise, the loss will be placed on his shoulders more than any other player. A loss in the first round could also equal the end of Mark Jackson’s tenure as head coach of the team.

It will take a strong effort from Curry to keep that from happening. He will have to bring his A game against a Los Angeles Clippers team that has plenty to prove themselves.

Dirk Nowitzki, Power Forward, Dallas Mavericks: How could a player who already has an NBA championship and MVP trophy be under pressure to perform in the postseason you ask?

Jonathan Bachman/AP Photo 
Nowitzki, along with the Mavericks, had been written off by plenty of people. After blowing up their championship team and hoping to build through free agency by adding Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, they came up with nothing in the first year and missed the playoffs in 2013. This season they were able to spend a little of that money, and out of it came quite possibly the most dangerous eight seed in NBA history.

The additions of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon have helped jump start the team, but everything with the Mavericks starts and ends with Nowitzki. They will go as far as he will take them.

Chris Paul, Point Guard, Los Angeles Clippers: Paul is regarded by almost everyone as a top tier point guard and superstar in this league. But if you say the same thing about Carmelo Anthony, you are met with scrutiny. In all reality, the two aren’t very different. The biggest knock against Anthony is his playoff success, or lack thereof. Paul, for whatever reason, has been able to hide his lack of playoff success, but it is about time he puts it together.

Paul will be making his sixth appearance in the playoffs, and has only previously advanced the first round twice, losing both times in the second round. Anthony has made it past the first time just as many times, and has a Western Conference finals appearance under his belt, so why Paul isn’t subject to the same criticism raises some questions.

Paul has a chance to quell all of those problems this season. The Clippers are set up well in the Western Conference, getting quite possibly the easiest first round match up against of anyone against a depleted Warriors team. It also helps that this is quite possibly the best team Paul has been with, from a teammates and coaching staff stand point.

If he is going to make it happen, this is the season as Blake Griffin is blossoming and Doc Rivers has gotten the most out of DeAndre Jordan in the process.

Dwight Howard, Center, Houston Rockets: Howard has caused quite a stir the past two offseasons, first forcing his way out of Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers and then leaving the Lakers this past offseason to join the Rockets. He has gotten everything he has wanted, so it is time for him to show up.

Howard is arguably the best center in the NBA, but it is mostly by default. There just isn’t much center talent in par with Howard right now, but his reign could soon be coming to an end. There are some younger big men, such as DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond that will soon be knocking on Howard’s door as the top big men in the NBA. But unlike those two, Howard has a chance to showcase his talent and cement himself as the top center in the NBA.

He handpicked where he wanted to play once again so it is time for him to reciprocate and show up. Howard was dealing with an ankle injury heading into the playoffs, but if he was as good as some people hype him up to be he will show up when it counts the most. Howard will be under the microscope, as the Rockets didn’t miss much of a beat when he was dealing with his ankle injury, as James Harden more easily roams free when there isn’t a center clogging the middle.

If the Howard from 2008-2009 NBA Playoffs shows up, the Rockets will be as difficult as any team to eliminate from the playoffs.

Kevin Durant, Small Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder: When Russell Westbrook went down with injury this season, Durant stepped his game up to unheard of levels. He scored without abandon, ripping off 12 straight games of 30+ scoring and 25+ points in 42 straight.

Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo
His scoring was through the roof, but he also became a good facilitator, averaging 5.5 assists per game. With stats like that, it is very likely that Durant will be the MVP this season. In potentially being named MVP, Durant has added a ton of expectations upon himself. For example, leading his team past the second round no matter who is around him. This season he proved that he could lead a team without his sidekick in Westbrook, so with him in the lineup the Thunder should be unstoppable.

The path to a title is brutal for the Thunder though, as the Memphis Grizzlies are made for the post season with their grind it out, beat’em up style of play. It would not get much easier, as the Western Conference is loaded from top to bottom.

Durant now is on another level of stardom, as he is argued by many as being a better player than LeBron James right now, who he will theoretically taking the MVP trophy away from. The expectations were high for Durant already, but would be sky high with an MVP award. Anything short of an NBA Final appearance will be considered a failure by many.