LeBron James is coming off one of the best regular seasons in history
He's been waiting for 10 months for his shot at redemption, and it doesn't appear he is going to shrink from the limelight. LeBron James is on a mission to win his first ring. He was stung by his poor performance in last year's loss in the Finals to Dallas. He told Sports Illustrated he was so despondent after the Dallas series he didn't leave his home for two weeks.
When he did leave, he worked on his game...tirelessly. He received a three-day tutorial on how to play inside from Hakeem Olajuwon, and then worked out under the guidance of his old high school coach.
This season, there seemed to be different LeBron. Gone was the Bron Bron who dribbled out the shot clock and then jacked a 3-pointer. In his place was a scoring machine who went to the hoop at will.
LeBron seems primed for a big postseason. But he's just one of six who appear ready to shine this spring. Here they are:
LeBron James sent a message with his Game 1 performance against New York
LeBron James scored 32 points and collected four steals in the Heat's playoff opening win over the Knicks. Miami won 100-67, and the game didn't seem that close.
Look for LeBron to call for the ball when the games are close this spring. Granted, the Heat still have a supreme closer in Dwayne Wade, but it looks like James has gone to that next level where the likes of Kobe and MJ have dwelled.
That means more performances like LBJ gave in Cleveland, when he scored 25 straight points in a Cavs' win over Detroit in 2007, and less of the disappearing act like he put on in the Game 6 loss to Dallas in the Finals in 2011.
Kevin Durant has OKC in a prime spot to advance to the Finals
Kevin Durant just finished off a season where he led the league in scoring...again. That's three straight scoring crowns. This time he added eight rebounds a game to go with 3.5 apg. San Antonio may be the No. 1 seed in the West, but you get the feeling Oklahoma City, with its younger roster, is the favorite to make the Finals.
According to NBA.com, Durant took 117 shots for the Thunder this year in clutch time. He also finished third in the league with an efficiency rating of 27.3. Hopefully teammate Russell Westbrook will allow Durant to do his thing.
Kobe Bryant is looking to win his sixth NBA title
Kobe Bryant always seems to come up big in the playoffs. You don't win five championships unless you do.
Bryant finished second in the league in scoring this year. He missed seven games near the end of the season with a shin injury, but the Lakers insist he's rested and ready for the second season. Interesting to note, Bryant averaged 27.9 ppg this year, but only 17.7 ppg against Los Angeles' first-round opponent, Denver. He has a career scoring average of 25.4 in the playoffs.
Chris Paul was brought to Los Angeles to help lead the Clippers to a place they've never been
Blake Griffin may get all the SportsCenter highlights, but when the games get tight and possessions valuable, the ball will wind up in Chris Paul's hands.
Paul averaged 19.8 ppg and 9.1 apg in his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers. His numbers will likely go up in the playoffs. He has a career scoring average of 21.1 in the postseason to go with an average of 11.1 assists. He will have to play brilliantly if Los Angeles is to get past Memphis in the first round.
Russell Westbrook must prove he can coexist with Kevin Durant in the postseason
Russell Westbrook is one of the most explosive players in the league. He's coming off a season where he averaged 23.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, and 4.6 rpg.
However, he still has last year's playoffs hanging over his head. Westbrook fizzled in the series against Dallas and many say he cost the Thunder the series. He was savaged in the national media for his spotty play, including this piece in the Huffington Post by Jordan Shultz: "The entire postseason thus far has been an onslaught of Westbrook turnovers and errant shots. His selfish play—as seen by his playoff high usage rate—has cost Oklahoma City in all three losses to Dallas, and, if it weren’t for the stellar performance by backup Eric Maynor in Game 2, the Thunder's season would be over."
Dwayne Wade can be counted on in the crunch should LeBron James falter
Okay, let's say LeBron reverts to his postseason form of the last couple of years. Dwayne Wade can still be counted on to save the day. Wade suffered through some injuries this year, but he's still one of the top 10 players in the league when and if he's healthy. He's also got one ring, and you can never underestimate the heart of a champion, as Rudy Tomjanovich once said.
Wade averages 25.9 ppg in the playoffs for his career.