The first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs are still underway, but the path to the NBA finals has cleared up already.
In the Eastern Conference, LeBron James and the Miami Heat have all but been penciled into the finals, and while the path to come out of the West is a little more complicated, all eyes are on the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, there are plenty of players along the way who will have something to say about all of that.
Here's a look at a handful of players who will need epic efforts the rest of the way to lead their specific teams to the NBA Finals.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
Granger is a star but will have to perform like a superstar to get the Pacers not only past the Miami Heat, but past whoever they could potentially face in the Eastern Conference Finals.
He was great in the first round against the Orlando Magic, averaging 21.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but Granger will have to be even better to lead Indiana to an upset over the heavily-favored Heat. In four regular-season matchups, Miami bottled up Granger, limiting him to 13.3 PPG and 5.3 RPG, as the Heat took the season series from Indiana, winning three of four games.
Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have to still get by the Denver Nuggets, but then the road will get much tougher with the Thunder then potentially the Spurs waiting for them.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum will have to be big for the Lakers to win, but they especially will need big efforts from Gasol, who is averaging a modest 12.8 points and 8.8 boards per game this postseason. To make a run to the finals, the Lakers will need the Gasol who has averaged 18.7 PPG and 9.2 RPG throughout his career.
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Pierce carried the Celtics to a Game 2 win vs. the Atlanta Hawks and has had a pretty solid series overall, averaging 21.8 points and 6.6 boards through five games.
The veteran small forward, despite having a knee problem right now, will have to take it to another level to get by the Heat and potentially reach another NBA Finals. If there were a time for the Celtics' Big Three to find the fountain of youth, it’s right now.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis has its hands full in its first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, but they have the overall talent to not only come back and win this series, but make a lengthy run, possibly to the finals.
To do that though, they need more from Randolph.
He has put up a solid 14 points and 14 rebounds through five games but is shooting only .353 from the floor. To make a postseason run, the Grizzlies need more of the 20 and 10 Randolph that we saw during last year’s playoff run.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
This is Griffin’s time to show that he’s a real superstar, and the Clippers will need him to be big, especially if Chris Paul isn’t at 100 percent.
Griffin has been good so far, averaging 20.2 points per game, but he has been a non-factor on the glass, pulling down only 7.2 boards per game.
With Memphis still standing in their way and the San Antonio and potentially Oklahoma City or the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers will need Griffin to become a terror in the paint if they are to make the lengthy run that they are capable of making.
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