New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, Indiana Pacers' Paul George
There is one thing that each of the 2013 NBA playoff teams must avoid in order to maximize its opportunity to advance to the conference finals.
From allowing isolation offense to become stagnant to losing the rebounding battle, the one thing that must be avoided is unique to that team specifically.
Being able to avoid that one thing—like losing collective composure or getting stuck in a half-court game—increases that team's chances of advancing to the conference finals.
The inability to avoid these things, meanwhile—whether they are directly controllable or not—could lead to elimination.
Miami Heat's LeBron James
As a member of the Miami Heat, LeBron James no longer settles for as many three-point field-goal attempts as he did during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This postseason, for example, he has attempted three three-pointers per game, as compared to 5.8 during the 2009 playoffs with the Cavs.
So long as James continues to attack the basket instead—while his superstar teammates follow suit—there is no stopping the Heat in a seven-game series.
When they each attack the rim, shooting that high of a percentage, the Heat are unbeatable. When James, Bosh and Wade settle for jumpers, they create the opportunity for an upset.
On the strength of attacking the basket collectively thus far, the Heat lead the NBA in postseason field-goal percentage at 49.6 per game.
Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls are still here.
Despite an embarrassing 115-78 loss in Game 2—followed by a more competitive 10-point loss in Game 3—the injury-ravaged Bulls have an opportunity to even their series with the Miami Heat at home in Game 4.
It will be the last real chance for Chicago to extend this series before it potentially heads back to Miami with an opportunity for the Heat to clinch.
In order for the Bulls to win their second game in this series, however, they will need to keep their collective composure for 48 minutes.
The officiating throughout this series has been suspect at best, and Chicago currently leads the NBA in postseason technical fouls with 18—so I can see where the Bulls might be frustrated.
But if Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson or anyone else ends up getting ejected, the Bulls will be sunk.
New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony
There is a fine line between isolation basketball and stagnant offense.
The New York Knicks, while compiling a 5-4 record against the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, currently rank last in the NBA in postseason assists at 15.1 per game.
During their Game 3 loss to the Pacers, the Knicks dished out only 11 assists as a team.
Throughout the 2012-13 regular season, they averaged 19.3—just over four more than they've accounted for now in the playoffs.
The more the basketball is moved, isolation offense or not, the harder it becomes to send help at Carmelo Anthony and other shooters.
With the ball movement slowing down, the Knicks have shot only 41.8 percent throughout the playoffs as compared to 44.8 during the regular season.
Indiana Pacers' David West
The Indiana Pacers lead the NBA in rebounding at 47.6 per game this postseason.
They out-rebounded the New York Knicks in their Game 3 win 53-40 and have collected 10.2 more rebounds than they've allowed throughout the playoffs.
In each of their six postseason victories, in fact, the Pacers have won the rebounding battle.
In those two losses, the Pacers were out-rebounded by the Hawks 46-45 and the Knicks 37-35.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant
The Oklahoma City Thunder must play at their own pace in order to beat the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder averaged 105.7 points during the regular season, compared to just 93.4 for the Grizzlies.
While I understand that the injured Russell Westbrook obviously had a major impact on those regular-season numbers, the fact remains that Oklahoma City is still a team that has built an identity of pushing tempo.
It can't stop doing that now.
In each of their six games with the Houston Rockets, the Thunder scored at least 100 points. During their Game 3 loss to Memphis on Saturday, they managed only 81.
In the half-court set, without Westbrook, the Grizzlies have their best opportunity to use five defenders to keep Kevin Durant from attacking the basket.
In an up-tempo game, if the Thunder can collect enough rebounds, steals and turnovers to create one, Durant is unstoppable.
Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph
The Memphis Grizzlies are at their best when running traditional back-to-the-basket, half-court sets that feature heavy doses of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
During the postseason, Randolph averages 18.4 points on 52.3 percent shooting, while Gasol is at 18.7 points and 49.1 percent.
The Grizzlies become less effective offensively only when they go away from that strength.
The more tempo is pushed, the more jump shots are taken, the less of an opportunity there is for the Memphis bigs to dominate.
In their Game 3 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Randolph and Gasol converted 10 of the 30 field goals the Grizzlies made as a team while attempting 26 of their 74 shots in total.
So long as the offensive ratio remains interior-oriented within the half court, the Grizzlies will continue to win.
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry
According to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is a game-time decision heading into Game 4 with the San Antonio Spurs.
It's simple and obvious, but the Warriors cannot afford to lose Curry for any length of time.
X-rays on the left ankle he rolled with five minutes remaining in Game 3 came back negative, and Curry is receiving treatment in preparation for Game 4.
If he can't go, however, the Warriors' chances of evening their series at 2-2 with the Spurs decrease dramatically.
Even with the more-than-capable Jarrett Jack starting in place of Curry, the Warriors would lose the postseason's MVP thus far at 25.3 points, 8.8 assists and four rebounds per game.
They would also lose the opportunity to overcome the 17.1 turnovers they've averaged in the playoffs by the improbable plays Curry has made throughout.
San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker
Coach Gregg Popovich said it, and I agree—the San Antonio Spurs cannot afford to have Tony Parker turning down jumpers.
After shooting 42.3 and 41.2 percent in the first two games of San Antonio's series with the Golden State Warriors, Parker finished with 32 points on 56.5 percent shooting in Game 3.
Afterwards, according to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com, Popovich offered the following on his point guard:
I think sometimes he gets a little bit obsessed about driving it, getting to the rim. When he does that, he turns down jumpers and he forgets to play with teammates. But when he’s like tonight, like he’s played most of the season, he’ll stop, shoot the open jumper, he’ll get his share of assists, and that’s what we need him to be. He’s a scoring point guard, but he has to do it with a jump shot as well as a drive. He did that tonight.
According to Hoopdata.com, Parker shot 46.7 percent from 10-15 feet during the 2012-13 campaign as well as 44 percent from 16-23 feet.
When he forces defenders to account for a pull-up jumper as well as the drive, Parker becomes an impossible player to defend.