NBA Playoffs 2014: Stars Who Must Step Up to Help Their Team Avoid Elimination

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 19:  Roy Hibbert #55 of the the Indiana Pacers walks with his head down after a foul in the 101 -93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 19, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There have been plenty of surprises in the first round of the NBA playoffs, but there are a few teams capable of coming back from the dead if they get more support from key players.

Obviously, the Charlotte Bobcats are officially done after losing all four of their games to the Miami Heat. However, everyone else in the playoffs is still capable of going on a run and advancing to the second round and beyond.

This will certainly be tougher for some teams than others, especially those one loss away from elimination. For them to earn a come-from-behind victory, it will take a strong effort from important players who have struggled until now.

Here is a look at stars that must step up in the coming games to turn things around.


Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers

After the Indiana Pacers tied the series against the Atlanta Hawks, 2-2, it seemed like everything was finally going to be OK. Unfortunately, the top seed in the Eastern Conference could not earn a win at home in Game 5 and are now down, 3-2, going on the road in Game 6.

While there are plenty of people to blame for these struggles, the biggest culprit is center Roy Hibbert, who is having a historically bad postseason, according to ESPN Stats and Info:

This was a problem heading into Game 4, but head coach Frank Vogel stood by his big man:

Unfortunately, he was even worse over the past two games. In Game 5, he finished with zero points in 12 minutes while committing four fouls.

Atlanta is not a good matchup for Hibbert due to the team's ability to spread the floor and hit shots from the outside. When he is dragged outside the paint by the man he is guarding, it takes away his ability to protect the paint.

The problem is that Hibbert is exacerbating his ineffectiveness by doing virtually nothing on the offensive end of the court. The 7'2" player was an All-Star this season, but he has not shown the ability to create any production on his own.

Paul George has done his job for the Pacers, but they will not win as long as Hibbert continues his ineffective play in the low post.


Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

Alex Brandon

The Bulls worked their way to the No. 4 seed mostly on the back of Joakim Noah. The center was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year and was even viewed by some as an MVP candidate considering how well the team played without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng.

While he has put up some solid numbers, he has clearly not done enough to help his team in this series. The Washington Wizards will travel to Chicago for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead after already winning the first two games at the United Center.

First, Noah has to be a leader for a team that is likely struggling with confidence. He is certainly helping in this regard:

Another thing the Bulls have to work on is improving defensively, something that had been solid all year. Chicago led the league while averaging just 91.8 points per game, but the Wizards have scored 99.5 per game in this series.

Although perimeter defense has been a problem, Noah can help out by making sure no one scores in the paint.

Finally, the center has to find a way to be more aggressive offensively. While he is not known as a scorer, his average has dropped from 12.6 points during the season to 11.5 in the playoffs. He has taken almost two fewer shots per game and is not going to the free-throw line as often.

Noah needs to show he is the best player on the roster and take care of the scoring to help his side come back in the series.


James Harden, Houston Rockets

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 25: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets stands on the court during a game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on April 25, 2014 at the Moda Center i
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

How can you blame a player who is averaging 27.5 points per game in the playoffs for his team being down, 3-1? Because this only tells a small part of the story.

James Harden's lack of efficiency in the playoffs has been truly incredible. He has scored his points on an average of 25.8 field-goal attempts per game while making only 35 percent of these looks. He is also hitting only 26.8 percent from three-point range.

Instead of allowing his teammates to get involved, he is chucking up shots to try to keep up with the Portland Trail Blazers on the scoreboard.

Of course, his offense is not as much of a problem as his defense. This is just a sampling of the reactions to watching Harden play on that end of the court:

Damian Lillard might not be having the series of LaMarcus Aldridge, but he is still averaging 25.5 points per game while doing pretty much whatever he wants offensively.

Every game in this series has been close with three of the battles going to overtime, but the Rockets will not win again until Harden improves on both ends of court.


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