Sometimes all it takes for a team to win the NBA Finals is to have an unsung hero step up and post awesome performances game after game.
The 2014 NBA playoffs feature multiple teams with breakout candidates who are ready to step up and play important minutes. The NBA postseason is a grind, and teams have to rely on every capable member of their rosters to stay fresh.
Some guys will prove to be more valuable than others. These are the guys who haven't made names for themselves on the national level. That will all change after this year's playoffs.
Look for the following three guys to break out and garner plenty of attention.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
Terrence Jones has emerged as a solid starter for the Houston Rockets in his second NBA season, but Houston will need him to be more than solid in the playoffs. The Rockets are underdogs to make a run at the title, and they'll need contributions from up and down the roster.
Joe Freeman of OregonLive.com points out that the Portland Trail Blazers should be somewhat familiar with the young forward:
Portlanders are well aware of Jones’ potential, having watched him win two OSAA Class 5A Player of the Year awards while steering Jefferson High School to three state championships. But he’s struggled against his hometown NBA team — averaging just 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds this season — and he’s endured the traditional ups and downs young players do as he’s navigated through his first season as a starter.
In his first ever playoff series, Jones will have to forget his past struggles against the Blazers and focus on playing a complete game. He'll be matched up against LaMarcus Aldridge (who just posted a career year), so he'll have to do his best to at least contain the Blazers' best weapon.
If Jones can contest Aldridge's shots and force him to struggle in a game or two, he'll garner attention. He doesn't need to post 15 points and 10 boards a night to be successful. Ten points a game and some solid defense on Aldridge would be more than enough.
Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors
"I tend to help a lot on the floor, help other teammates. Being aware of where he [Pierce] is on the floor and being a shooter, just staying close to him. I definitely will go over film on that. He’s definitely deadly at the [power forward]."
Pierce will make things difficult for Johnson on both ends of the floor. A natural small forward, Pierce has seen significant time as a power forward when in Jason Kidd's small-ball lineups. As a 4, Pierce has the speed (even on older legs) to get past most bigger power forwards. Despite Johnson's athleticism, this happens to be the case here.
Defensively, Pierce is nothing special. But he's smart enough to anticipate plays that a young team like the Toronto Raptors might do. Johnson will have to make sure he doesn't telegraph his passes because Pierce is smart enough to jump the lane and come up with an easy steal.
Johnson is a talented young player, however. He scored 10.4 points per game this season on 56.2 percent shooting. He'll be a crucial member of his team's inside attack next to Jonas Valanciunas.
If he is able to outplay Pierce on both ends of the floor, then the Raptors might be able to move on to Round 2.
Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
Make sure you watch the paint when Mason Plumlee is on the floor because that's honestly the only place you'll ever find him with the ball in his hands.
Kidd doesn't allow Plumlee to take any shots from outside the paint, and that is what has made the young big man so successful. He finished the year with a team-high 65.9 percent mark from the floor as a result. A majority of his converted field goals being dunks, Plumlee is a monster down low.
His numbers—aside from his field-goal percentage—aren't particularly eye-popping. He averaged a modest 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 18.2 minutes per game as a rookie. That's a result of receiving far fewer minutes in the first half of the season than he did in the second.
Plumlee is a candidate to steal the show against Toronto. He is very talented, and the Brooklyn Nets know how to properly use him. The Raptors shouldn't underestimate him when he gets the ball in the paint. When he goes up for a shot, he generally converts.
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