Seven players whose teams need them to step up big in the postseason

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Jeff Green

Since his 43-point game in mid-March (excluding Boston’s season finale, when regular players rested), Green has averaged 20.0, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. By any eye test, he’s looked excellent. But in that span, the Celtics have been outscored by 3.6 points per 100 possession with him on the court and outscored opponents by 12.5 points per with him on the bench. Green has suffered from playing major minutes with the Celtics’ reserves, and when he’s played with the starters, he’s posted positive net ratings. Once Boston shrinks its playoff rotation, Green should turn into a player who excels individually and helps his team become more successful.

Tayshaun Prince

Prince, once a bastion of durability, just played his first 82-game season since playing every game between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 season. The 2008-09 season was also the last time Prince made the playoffs. In a four-game sweep to LeBron James’ Cavaliers, Prince looked worn down, scoring 15 total points on 27 shots. He’s probably more rejuvenated with Memphis, but he’ll need to show he’s not too old for a long playoff run.

Jerryd Bayless

Bayless has given the Grizzlies a nice scoring punch off the bench, leading the team’s reserves with 8.7 points per game. But he also makes Mike Conley better, allowing Conley a break from full-time ball-handling duties while keeping the starting point guard on the court and contributing as a scorer. In the 64 contest the combination has been used, Bayless and Conley play 10 minutes per game together and help the Grizzlies outscore  opponents by 10.2 possessions per 100 possessions. As long as Bayless plays well, that makes managing a think backcourt much easier easier.

DeAndre Jordan

Last season, Jordan’s playing time shrunk from 27.2 minutes per game in the regular season to 21.6 minutes per game in a playoff series with the Grizzlies. Now that that Jordan is down to 24.5 minutes per game in the regular season, how much less can can he play against Memphis this year? Los Angeles had Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin last season to battle Marc Gasol inside, but can the Clippers rely on Lamar Odom this year? If Jordan proves he can make his free throws and remain engaged, he’ll stay on the court and they won’t have to answer that question.

Jeremy Lin

In Houston’s two losses to the Thunder, Lin scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting. In the Rockets’ win, he scored 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting. James Harden can’t carry the scoring load alone, and Lin is the wildcard who could help him – or get shut down by Oklahoma City’s impressive defensive backcourt.

Steve Nash

Nash’s numbers are down – his win shares and win shares per 48 minutes are both his lowest in the last 13 years – partially because the Lakers’ Kobe-centric system kept the ball out of his hands. But at 39 years old, Nash is no longer close to the same player he was just two years ago. With Kobe out, the Lakers have little choice but to empower Nash to run the offense. Does he have enough left in the tank to lead one more playoff run? I doubt it, but that’s probably their only hope of advancing.

J.R. Smith

The Knicks started the season 23-10 and ended with a 16-2 stretch. Between, they went 15-16. Smith was effective during both New York’s high periods and its low period, and that illustrates the excellent season he’s having. But Smith was definitely better during the highs (shooting 45 percent) than the low (shooting 36 percent). Few players can match Smith’s talent, and when he’s using all of it, the Knicks are so much better. There risk of Smith flaming out in the playoffs is lower than most could have envisioned, but that doesn’t change how much better he can make the Knicks when he play his best.

Unstoppable Meyers Leonard drops 25 on Warriors in first half (VIDEO)

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Stephen Curry had an I-don’t-want-to-play-Game-5 kind of first half for Golden State, scoring 25 points and hitting 5-of-7 from three.

However, he was the second best player on the court because Meyers Leonard held that crown.

Yes, Meyers Leonard.

He had 25 points of his own on 10-of-12 shooting.

Fans broke out a “Mey-ers Leon-ard” chant.

All that had Portland up 69-65 at the half in a defense-optional Game 4 where it is win-or-go-home for the Trail Blazers.

Knicks Frank Ntilikina reportedly wants to be traded, switches agents

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When the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season — a player Denver just released outright — Mudiay instantly jumped past Frank Ntilikina on the point guard depth chart. Then, when the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. at the deadline (part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal), the future of Ntilikina in New York was thrown into uncertainty.

Ntilikina sees that, wants out, and is getting a new agent as well, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina dropped CAA as his agency last season and planned to sign with French agent Bouna Ndiaye, the Daily News has learned.

Ntilikina, who was drafted eighth overall by Knicks in 2017, is on the trading block and desires a relocation, a source told the News. The Knicks declined offers to move Ntilikina at the trade deadline in February, acquired another point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., and Ntilikina quickly decided to change agents.

Ndiaye represents several French players in the NBA, including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks are expected to try to trade Ntilikina, either at the draft or next summer. Mostly other teams will view him as a way to save money — if teams do not pick up his 2020-21 option by Oct. 31 he comes off the books after this next season — but also Ntilikina played good defense and other teams may try to take a flier on him.

Andre Iguodala out for Game 4 against Portland with sore calf

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Andre Iguodala was limited in Game 3 in Portland, playing just 18 minutes Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. An MRI on his left calf Sunday came back clean, but he was questionable with leg tightness, officially. Call it a sore calf if you prefer.

Up 3-0 in the series, there was no reason to risk something worse in Game 4, so Iguodala is out, coach Steve Kerr announced pregame.

Alfonzo McKinnie will start in place of Iguodala.

Iguodala joins Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on the Warriors bench for Game 4.

If there is a Game 5, it will be Wednesday night in the Bay Area.

With the NBA Finals not starting until May 30 — a week from this Thursday — the Warriors have plenty of time to rest and get their starters healed before taking on a serious challenger from the East (whether that is Milwaukee or Toronto). The Warriors have used their depth against Portland to help keep minutes down for their starters and Kerr will lean on that bench to close out the series in the next couple of games.

Report: Rockets, Mike D’Antoni talking contract extension

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Mike D’Antoni, the father of the seven seconds or less system that started a revolution of NBA style, has changed in recent years. In Houston, with James Harden at his peak and this specific roster around him, D’Antoni now coaches an isolation-heavy team that has pushed the NBA envelope in other ways, particularly in trusting the three ball.

D’Antoni fits with Daryl Morey, and the sides have started talking contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni have had preliminary discussions about the framework of a contract extension that would keep the two-time NBA Coach of the Year from entering the final year of his deal…

“I’ve let [general manager] Daryl [Morey] and [team owner] Tilman [Fertitta] know that I’m energized to keep coaching — and believe that I can continue to do this at a high level for at least another three years,” D’Antoni, 68, told ESPN on Sunday night.

“I want to be a part of a championship here.”

This is the smart move, he is a part of what has made the Rockets such a success in recent years.

The Rockets should look for roster upgrades this summer but they should not be blowing things up. The Rockets were the second best team in the NBA last season and may have been again by the playoffs this season (it depends on where you want to put Milwaukee and Toronto in that ranking, but the Rockets were in the mix). Houston’s problem has been a historic dynasty in Golden State, but that could look very different next season. If the Warriors take a step or two back, for whatever reasons, Houston is poised to pounce. They will be contenders.

D’Antoni is a part of that, and the Rockets need to keep one of the best coaches in the game in house.