The 2013 NBA playoffs are in full swing, as the conference semifinals are approaching their midway point. On Monday, May 13, two series will step into action once again, as they compete in Game 4 of their second-round encounter.
While every team needs a win, there are certain players that need a stellar performance of their own—so who's under the most pressure?
Some players have star reputations to protect, but haven't yet produced at the level expected of them. With Game 4 on the horizon, the stage is set for them to make their statement and reaffirm their status amongst the league's elite.
Others aren't quite stars, but have done enough to warrant consideration for such a label. It's now time for those players to step up and prove they deserve the praise they've received.
Regardless of why it is, the following players need a big performance.
Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
Carlos Boozer is under mountains of pressure to produce and lead the Chicago Bulls' offense against the Miami Heat. His average of 15.7 points and 8.9 rebounds on 51.9 percent shooting simply isn't enough for Chicago to feed him the ball more.
If you're confused, don't worry—so is the rest of the rational world.
Without Boozer, the Bulls likely wouldn't have made the playoffs during the 2013 NBA season. Not only did he average 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, but he was fifth in the NBA in double-doubles with 44.
Even still, Boozer's efforts have been viewed as not enough due to his defensive shortcomings.
With Derrick Rose absent and Luol Deng hindered by injuries, albeit still active, Boozer has shouldered the offensive load for a team that has struggled to put points on the board. The Boozer conundrum was never more evident than in Game 3.
Boozer finished with team-high 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but played just 29 minutes as Tom Thibodeau replaced him with Taj Gibson—a player who shot 2-of-9 from the field.
For a Bulls team that was tied with the Heat entering the fourth quarter, a result of team defense and Boozer's scoring, it's baffling how he's been handled. Not only has Boozer been as productive as you could ask for out of a power forward, but he's been the consummate teammate when benched.
Here's hoping that Boozer quiets the detractors with yet another monster performance—maybe then Chicago will know how good they have it at the 4.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Mike Conley has broken out for the second consecutive postseason, only this time, people appear to be taking notice. Thus far, Conley is averaging 17.4 points, 7.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
Now that the world is recognizing his efforts, it's time to see if Conley can handle the pressure.
Conley has drawn tough assignments, taking on Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul in the first round and athletic dynamo Reggie Jackson currently. Regardless of whom he's facing, Conley's defense has been top tier and his offense has come along with it.
That was on full display during Game 2, as Conley torched the Oklahoma City Thunder for 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Despite shooting poorly from the field in Game 3, Conley still managed to tally 14 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. In order to win Game 4 against a desperate Thunder team, however, Conley will need to turn it back to Game 2.
It's a lot to ask of him, but when you're playing a star like Kevin Durant—and there aren't many like him—it's all hands on deck.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant isn't under any pressure whatsoever when it comes to the media or fan expectations. In terms of individual performance, Durant has been the class of the 2013 NBA playoffs, doing any and everything to help his shorthanded team win.
With that being said, Durant has placed quite the burden upon himself.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, Durant believes that he could be doing more for his team. This comes as Durant posts postseason averages of 32.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 block per game.
But, you know, Durant needs to be doing more.
I can do a lot more. There's always things. No matter how good you play, you always can do more," said Durant, who has averaged 34 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and shot 50.6 percent from the field in the seven games Oklahoma City has played without Westbrook.
I gotta find ways to help [my teammates] out and put them in great position. Continue to just be a vocal leader, a positive leader on the bench and every time down the court.
It's hard to make the claim that this rests on Durant's shoulders, but his teammates do need to step up.
Durant will have all eyes on him during Game 4, as he attempts to lead the Thunder to yet another win without Russell Westbrook. Trailing 2-1, the urgency for a victory is certainly at a high for a Thunder team that's hoping to avoid the threat of elimination in Game 5.
No one will question Durant's leadership and production thus far—well, except Durant.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade is a two-time NBA champion, the 2006 NBA Finals MVP and has 116 games of postseason experience under his belt. In that time, Wade has posted career postseason averages of 24.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
In 2012-13, however, Wade just hasn't displayed the aggression that made him into the superstar he is today.
Thus far, Wade is averaging 13.3 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. As for those fearing he's hit a decline, it's not as if Wade can't produce, as he's shooting 45.8 percent from the field.
It's more of Wade not producing, as he's attempting just 12.0 field goals per game—6.5 less than he put up in 2012.
This hasn't posed too much of a threat to Miami's title dreams, as they swept the Milwaukee Bucks and are presently up 2-1 on the Chicago Bulls. Furthermore, LeBron James is attempting just 15.0 field goals per game.
Keep in mind, ladies and gentlemen, this is the same D-Wade that averaged 33.2 points, 6.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals on 56.4 percent shooting during his last postseason without LeBron.
There's a case to be made that Wade and company are saving their best effort for a less injury-depleted foe. There's also the case that the Heat were tied with the Bulls entering the fourth quarter and they need D-Wade to step up.
Game 4 could go a long way toward determining Wade's mentality for the rest of this series.