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.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.