March 15, 2013
Every team entering the playoffs needs their star to step up, but these three guys have a little extra weight on their shoulders. Without big performances these guys' teams sink fast in the postseason (or in Kobe's case, don't even make the playoffs).
Honorable mention tonight to Thaddeus Young who put up 24 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort.
Third Star: Kobe Bryant (31 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists)
The Lakers recent run of wins came because Dwight Howard started playing better defense, because the Lakers started to find an identity, and mostly because Kobe was running the offense, scoring and setting guys up. If they are going to make the playoffs, let alone do any damage, they are going to need him back and moving well after his severe ankle sprain. They are also going to need a more efficient Kobe than the one Wednesday who needed 33 shots to get his 31 points - those kind of numbers get the Lakers golfing early. Especially against the top of the West.
Second Star: Stephen Curry (31 points, 8 assists)
It's not just Curry with the Warriors, it's really him and David Lee in concert. The Warriors don't play enough defense as a team to have that win them playoff games (and that likely is their undoing), but they can win games when Curry and Lee put up big games. And Curry did that against the Pistons on Wednesday. Curry got his 31 points on 14 shots and was 5-of-7 from three. Golden State is going to need a lot more of that to get out of first round, and other teams will put up more resistance than the slumping Pistons.
First Star: Roy Hibbert (27 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks)
Count me in the camp that says if one team has a shot at the Heat in the East, it's the Pacers. Actually, after the last 20 games I don't think any team in the East has a real chance, but the Pacers have the best of the insane long shots. But for that to happen (or even to reach the conference finals) they need Hibbert to play the best basketball of his career. Against an undermanned Timberwolves team Wednesday Hibbert was that guy - he absolutely dominated the paint and got his team the win. It's another thing to do that against a playoff team, but after how poorly Hibbert started the season it's good to see him rounding into form when it matters most.