The second round of the NBA playoffs are underway, and there are plenty of players who have a lot to prove. LeBron James needs to prove that he can raise his game in the playoffs and vindicate his MVP trophy. Russell Westbrook has to prove that he can continue to play alongside Kevin Durant without posing a problem.
Inside, I examine five players who have much to prove during the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Russell Westbrook has all of the talent in the world. A freak athlete, Westbrook is a lock-down defender and is unstoppable getting to the rim. He plays hard, really hard, and he brings it on every play.
However, Westbrook is a bit of a head case. He falls in love with his jump shot (not his strong suit), and at times he refuses to defer to Kevin Durant on offense.
So far, their partnership has worked, finishing with the second-best record in the regular season and sweeping the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round.
A second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers will be much more difficult, however, and Westbrook needs to prove that he can keep his head on straight. The Thunder have the talent to win the NBA title, and a loss in the second round would be a massive defeat.
Westbrook needs to continue to prove that he can play alongside Durant without his ego getting the best of him. The playoffs ratchet up the pressure, and Westbrook needs to continue to demonstrate that he can handle it.
Kevin Durant just finished second in the NBA MVP voting, and the general consensus is that he is the second-best player in the NBA.
A phenomenal scorer, Durant led the league in scoring for the third consecutive season. The Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks in first round, but they face a significantly more difficult opponent in the second round with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the second round of the NBA playoffs, Kevin Durant needs to prove that he is the second-best player in the NBA. There is no one on the Los Angeles Lakers that can defend Durant, and he should be able to dominate the series.
Additionally, Durant needs to bring it on defense and really set the tone for the entire team. The Los Angeles Lakers are perfectly capable of beating the Thunder, and it is Durant’s job to ensure that that doesn't happen.
Elite teams don’t lose to inferior competition in the playoffs, and Durant and the Thunder need to advance to justify their seasons.
The Chris Paul trade completely changed the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. A traditionally moribund team, Chris Paul has invigorated the fan base and completely changed the outlook of the team. The Clippers made the playoffs for just the fifth time since 1976, and won their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games.
In the second round, Chris Paul needs to continue to prove that he is a franchise changer and that the fortunes of the Los Angeles Clippers have been completely turned around.
The San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers second-round opponent, are a very good team and are more than capable of sweeping L.A. A Clippers win in this series would be a major upset and would cement Chris Paul as a franchise changing player as well as the premier point guard in the NBA.
Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs tied for the best record in the NBA during the regular season. The Spurs continued their dominance in the first round of the NBA playoffs, sweeping the Utah Jazz and winning every game handedly.
The Spurs face the upstart Clippers in the second round, and they should pose a much stiffer test then the Jazz.
In the Clippers series, Tim Duncan and the Spurs need to continue to vindicate their regular season record right now. Tim Duncan needs to prove that he can still play at an elite level and that he can handle the Clippers Blake Griffin.
Duncan’s career is beginning to wind down, and he is running out of opportunities to win another NBA title and cement his status as the greatest power forward in NBA history. Duncan needs to be a consistent presence in this series, and he needs to put up at least one dominant game.
LeBron James just won his third MVP award, placing him among truly elite company. However, James is the only one among the eight other three-time MVP award winners, that hasn’t won an NBA championship.
LeBron has struggled in the playoffs so far in his career, and the second round is a perfect opportunity for LeBron to prove that he can handle the pressure of the playoffs and begin to change his legacy.
LeBron James needs to prove that he can play at an elite level in the playoffs, like he can in the regular season. So far, LeBron has been able to do that, scoring 32 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and completely taking over the second half of the first game against the Indiana Pacers.
LeBron needs to continue to play like he did in Game 1, and if he does so, his playoff legacy will be much improved.