The NBA playoffs are generally about the best players in basketball dominating and carrying their teams to new heights. That will certainly be the case for guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but forgotten role players often make a big impact as well.
Certain players are able to reach a different level in the playoffs either out of necessity or due to an increased desire to succeed. Every team that wins a championship gets production from a bench player or an unheralded starter who wasn't necessarily expected to contribute.
Here are three unsung heroes who will excel in the first round of the playoffs and push their teams into the second round and one step closer to a title.
Which unsung hero will perform best in the first round of the playoffs?
According to Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com, injured Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is unlikely to return for the playoffs. Rose has not played all season after suffering a torn ACL in the playoffs last year. Despite his absence, the Bulls managed to secure the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and will play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
While the Bulls are obviously a better team with Rose, as he is an MVP-caliber player, the team has done a really nice job without him. Kirk Hinrich is technically the starting point guard, but Nate Robinson has been the true threat at that position for Chicago.
The 5'9" (on stilts) spark plug has provided a ton of energy to the team this season. He averaged over 13 points and four assists per game during the regular season, but he doesn't get much respect due to his diminutive size.
Robinson will have a tough task on his hands as All-Star point guard Deron Williams will be on the other side, but Robinson is faster and more explosive than pretty much anyone in the game. He may very well struggle against Williams defensively, but Robinson has been a key cog for the Bulls all season long, and he will elevate his game in the playoffs.
While the New York Knicks were easily the second-best team in the Eastern Conference all season long and never really missed a step, they were ravaged by injuries and often had to call upon their bench to pick up the slack.
One great thing that came from those injuries was the emergence of Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old forward is playing in his first NBA season after competing largely in Europe since 2007.
Copeland didn't put up huge numbers this year, but he was extremely reliable off the bench as he pitched in nearly nine points per game and hit 48 percent of his shots. With Amar'e Stoudemire still ailing and a number of different Knicks dealing with injuries as well, Copeland should continue to see his role expanded in the playoffs.
He got a chance to start some games late in the season and didn't disappoint, as he netted more than 30 points in each of New York's final two games of the regular season. The Knicks' offense will always run through Carmelo Anthony first and foremost, but secondary scoring is very important in the playoffs. Copeland has provided plenty of that lately and will continue to do so in the postseason as well.
Perhaps more than any other team in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets rely on their entire lineup to win games. Head coach George Karl certainly subscribes to the theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the Nuggets have proven that to be true thus season.
Despite the lack of a true superstar, Denver captured the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are full of unsung heroes, but Corey Brewer may be the biggest among them.
Brewer has always been known as a defensive stopper more than anything else, but this year he has done a little bit of everything. Not only has Brewer's perimeter defense been a huge asset for the Nuggets, but he is averaging over 12 points per game off the bench as well. This season has been the second best of Brewer's professional career from an offensive perspective, which is impressive since he has had to reinvent himself as a player.
With Danilo Gallinari out, other players have had to pick up the slack. Brewer has definitely done that, and he has really helped the Nuggets keep up their surprising pace. There probably aren't a lot of NBA fans outside of Denver who realize how great Brewer has been this year, but they'll find that out during the first round of the playoffs.
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