NBA Playoffs 2014: Players Who Must Improve for Their Team to Advance to Finals

David DanielsSenior Writer IMay 30, 2014

May 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) loses control of the ball as Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) defends during the third quarter in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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If one particular player from each remaining NBA playoff team is able to improve, his team will advance to the 2014 NBA Finals.

But if this player fails, his club will be going home.

Here are the four stars whose improvements are the most vital:

 

May 8, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) talks with head coach Gregg Popovich against the Portland Trail Blazers in game two of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TOD
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4. PG Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio could do little wrong in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. The Spurs took a 3-2 series lead, pinning the Thunder's backs against the wall. 

San Antonio has won and lost as a team in the Western Conference Finals, but if one player's struggles will hold them back, it's Parker's. He's averaging 11.2 points, 3.2 boards, 1.4 assists and 1.8 steals fewer than Russell Westbrook this series.

It'll be difficult for the Spurs to eliminate the Thunder if their leading scorer continues to get outplayed to that extent.

 

May 13, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA;  Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts to a foul call in a game  against the Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Washington defeats Indiana 102-79. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spur
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3. C Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers

Hibbert almost always finds a way to do something wrong. In Game 3, he snagged just two rebounds. In Game 4, he shot 0-of-4 from the field. In Game 5, he only shot 36.4 percent, but his 13 rebounds helped the Pacers sneak by the Heat by a three-point margin.

If they want to win two straight games against Miami, the Roy Hibbert of Game 1—who finished with 19 points and nine boards—must show up. If he doesn't, Indiana will be watching the finals from home.

 

May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) speaks with guard Russell Westbrook (0) against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Ce
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2. PF Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder

Ibaka looked like the Thunder's most valuable player in Games 3 and 4. And then the Spurs adjusted. Not playing Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter together made Ibaka disappear.

After Oklahoma City looked unbeatable for two straight games, Ibaka's six-point, two-rebound stat line brought them back down to earth. The Thunder can win back-to-back games against San Antonio again if Ibaka bounces back, but if he doesn't, they're done.

 

May 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Game referee Ed Malloy (14) and Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) exchange words during the fourth quarter in game five against the Indiana Pacers of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers
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1. SF LeBron James, Miami Heat

Of these four players, James' ability to improve from his previous performance is the most important to his team.

He's also the most likely to improve.

What some witnesses of Game 5 are calling questionable refereeing limited James to only 24 minutes of action, and he never got going because of it—scoring just seven points.

It's probably more likely that James, who scored 32 points while shooting 61.9 percent from the field in Game 4, gets struck by lightning before he mimics his last outing, but those slim odds don't make his improvement any less necessary.

 

David Daniels is a columnist at Bleacher Report and editor at Wade-O Radio.