The NBA playoffs are underway and these 10 players will be heavily depended on and under a ton of pressure in the playoffs.
Lowry has been a 6-time All-Star for the Raptors and he has been the veteran point guard on a young Raptors team this year. Almost everyone on the Raptors came off a championship run this year, and surprisingly, they've been the 2nd seed in the East this year. Lowry has been in the playoffs multiple years and has had the reputation of struggling in the postseason. However this year, he can't afford to struggle since the Raptors don't have their Finals MVP. Siakam, Van Vleet, and Lowry have been the 3 best players on the Raptors, but none has experienced more playoff basketball than Lowry. If Lowry and everyone on the Raptors can play at their best, they have a chance to knock off the Bucks or the Celtics and make the NBA finals again.
This year, Tatum stepped into a role where he had to be the best player on the Celtics and he has done just that, averaging 23 points a game, being one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and leading Boston to the 3-seed. Despite him only in his 3rd year in the league, Tatum has experienced a lot of playoff basketball and this year, they have a chance to go all the way. Tatum can't afford any off nights especially in the 2nd round where they will likely play the Raptors. Tatum had a great 1st two games against the 76ers, but he and his team have to keep that up since Gordon Hayward will be out for a month with a twisted ankle. Being the best player on the team, Tatum has to always be the best player on the floor if the Celtics want to go far, since they have the starting 5 to do so.
This guy was under pressure from the start. The Trail Blazers have been fighting for the 8-seed the entire bubble, and with great performances from Lillard and McCollum in the play-in, their work is only beginning. They are playing the 1-seed Los Angeles Lakers and with a Game 1 win, they can really be dangerous for the Lakers. When Damian Lillard is at his best, he plays like one of the the best players in the league and the Lakers might not have anyone to guard Lillard. The Blazers don't rely on defense so Lillard has to play elite offense to beat the Lakers and even though we really cannot ask Lillard to do any more since he carried the Blazers to the playoffs, he is playing one of the best teams and best players in the league so this might be Lillard's toughest series ever against Lebron.
"Playoff Lebron" needs to come alive. No doubt that Lebron is one of the most clutch players and greatest players of all-time, but this might be one of his last chances to win a championship. With two of the Lakers best defenders out in the bubble, Lebron has to carry a heavy load along with Anthony Davis. The Lakers also lost Game 1 against the Trail Blazers and even though Lebron had a crazy statline having 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 16 assists, his playoff career high in assists, the Lakers ended up losing as Portland simply shot better which is one of LA's biggest weaknesses. When Lebron is playing his best, he can shoot really well, and he can find open teammates, leading the league in assists. Guys like Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell Pope are also under pressure, but Lebron and Davis have to play their best basketball.
A healthy Joel Embiid has shown he can be a generational big man for any team. However, is he good enough to single handedly beat the Celtics in a 7 game series? In his 4th year in the league, Embiid has made his 3rd consecutive playoff appearance with the 76ers and has made it to the 2nd round both times, and this year falling to the 6-seed, the 76ers don't look promising. Embiid and the 76ers got ousted by the Raptors in a Game 7 last year, and this year, they're looking to redeem themselves, but that's going to be hard since their primary defender and 2nd All-Star, Ben Simmons will be out for the playoffs. Even though they still have good players in Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Josh Richardson, Embiid has to be the leader and dominate for the next 4 games against the Celtics since the Sixers are down 2-0.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the main player in Milwaukee, but Middleton has to step as the 2nd option especially since their goal is to win a championship. Last year, Middleton played pretty good in Milwaukee's opening 2 rounds against Detroit and Boston, but in the Conference Finals where Giannis didn't play well guarded by Kawhi Leonard, Middleton struggled, which was a big reason Toronto won that series 4-2. Middleton is also under pressure because he got a max contract from Milwaukee last off-season and as good as he has played this season shooting 50-40-90 efficiency, you can argue the contract is still an overpay. Middleton is an elite shooter and scorer, but against all the competition, he needs to play well even if Giannis will.
Speaking of Giannis, as the leader of the best team in the league, everyone is looking out to see if Giannis can lead the Bucks to the Finals since Kawhi Leonard isn't in the East anymore to lock him up. However, the path won't be easy because teams like Toronto, Boston, and even Miami have the capabilities to beat the Bucks. Giannis is an unrestricted free agent in 2021, and if Giannis can't find a championship in Milwaukee, there is a very slight chance Giannis might want a different environment, even though it's very unlikely. With the best record in the league for the 2nd straight year, this is the best chance for Milwaukee to win their first championship since Kareem, but Giannis has to continue playing at an MVP level if that's going to happen.
Last year after being 3rd in the MVP and DPOY race averaging 28 points a game, in the 1st round with OKC against the Blazers, George only put up 22 points a game as the Thunder lost in 5. Now playing with Kawhi Leonard and being on one of, if not the best team in the league in the Clippers, their ultimate goal is to win their first franchise championship. George had some good runs as the star for the Indiana Pacers, but he hasn't made it out of the 1st round since 2015. He has to play efficiently and hold the ground if Kawhi isn't on the floor, because the Clippers have to depend on everyone to beat teams like the Lakers and the Bucks in the Conference Finals and Finals. We know that Kawhi is one of the best players in the league and the best defender, but George has a very similar play style and his main problem is that he hasn't stepped up in the playoffs in a while.
Without Russell Westbrook in the first 2 games of the Rockets vs Thunder 1st round series, the Rockets have still managed to win both those games with Harden being the leading scorer for them both times. The Rockets have been sent home by the Warriors in the playoffs for the past 2 years and this year without the Warriors in the playoffs, the Rockets have their best chance. However, the Lakers and the Clippers are still the top teams in the West, so those will be teams that the Rockets might have troubles against, but Harden has proven he can do anything on offense. Harden is one of the best offensive players we've ever seen and the big question is can he keep it up in the postseason and if so, will it lead to series wins?
Davis is one of the NBA stars that hasn't experienced much playoff basketball in his 8th year in the league. He has won one playoff series with the Pelicans in 2018 and now is playing in his 3rd postseason of his career. Davis played well in his first two playoff appearances, but now, he is the 2nd option on a Lakers team that is fighting to win a championship. Davis might be one of the most talented all-around big men the game has ever seen, and he is still only 27 years old. This playoff run will show something about Davis and see if he can dominate because according to Shaquille O'Neal, "28 points isn't good enough", so Davis needs to play well alongside Lebron.
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