Good players always step up with the game on the line. However, great players step up with the game on the line in the playoffs.
With the playoffs fast approaching, the top players will begin to distinguish themselves from the pack as they attempt to lead their teams towards an NBA championship.
In some cases, a player on the following list of 15 players may not be the best player on his respective team, but the player might be the most important player on the team.
Importance to a team comes in various forms, whether it is creating opportunities for teammates or providing leadership during tough stretches.
Here are 15 players who hold the greatest importance to their teams heading into the playoffs.
While the New York Knicks’ front line features two of the premier scorers in the NBA in Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, veteran point guard Chauncey Billups may hold the key to New York’s success.
The Knicks have struggled since the Melo trade and look like they will be limping into the playoffs.
However, if Billups can create opportunities down low for Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks can make a surprise run in the Eastern Conference.
Billups will also need to hit clutch three-pointers down the stretch of games like he did so well during his time with the Detroit Pistons in the mid-2000s.
If the Knicks can get hot, they can be a dangerous postseason team.
LaMarcus Aldridge has placed himself into the conversation of Comeback Player of the Year.
Aldridge has been a catalyst in Portland’s season in which the team is currently 10 games over .500.
However, in the Western Conference, that is only good enough for the sixth seed.
The New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies are hot on Portland’s tail, which could mean that the Trail Blazers may have to face the San Antonio Spurs or Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Aldridge would not back down from this challenge, but he would need to have a big series to unseat one of the elite NBA teams.
Chris Paul will have to provide his New Orleans Hornets with an energy boost if they expect to make some noise in the playoffs.
The Hornets are another team that appears to be limping into the playoffs and will likely have to face a top seed.
Paul missed a week due to a head injury, but he returned to record three straight double-doubles.
He had a poor shooting performance (0-for-9) Saturday against the Celtics that has caused some concern. Paul will need to be a consistent scorer for the Hornets for them to make a run.
Like his teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy will be an important cog for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Though he’s averaging almost a full five points under his career average, Roy has the ability to light up the scoreboard and score in bunches, which is crucial in the playoffs.
He missed almost two-and-a-half months due to injury and has yet to find a consistent groove.
However, Portland is hoping he gets hot at the right time so he can lead the Trail Blazers to an upset first-round victory.
Russell Westbrook sometimes flies under the radar in Oklahoma City due to his all-world teammate, Kevin Durant.
However, Westbrook is an important piece of the Thunder’s attack.
He constantly sets up Durant with easy buckets and also has averaged 22.1 points per game.
If the Thunder plan on making a run in the playoffs, they will need strong play from Westbrook.
Pau Gasol is one of the unsung heroes of the NBA.
Playing in the shadow of Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Gasol has averaged a double-double with 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
More importantly, the seven-footer plays consistent defense for a team known for its scoring.
Gasol was an integral part of the Lakers’ championship run last year. Los Angeles will count on him again if they plan on pulling off the three-peat.
You may be thinking that this is kind of low to be placing Dwyane Wade.
It may seem low on the list, but that doesn’t take away from how important Wade is to the Miami Heat.
Despite their offseason acquisitions, the Heat have remained Wade’s team.
There have been ups and downs for Miami all year, but Wade has remained the consistent force.
Though some have written off the Heat, Wade and company are in a position to make a deep playoff run and prove the naysayers wrong.
Dwight Howard can control a game inside the paint.
If he’s actively pulling down rebounds and converting easy layups, it opens up the outside for the Orlando Magic’s jump shooters.
Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson can all knock down outside shots and thrive when Howard is a force in the middle.
He must control his emotions, because he will be very important if the Magic plan on competing with the Celtics, Heat and Bulls.
Though he’s not the youthful soul he once was, Dirk Nowitzki can still be a dominant force. He can score in the paint, from mid-range and of course from three-point range.
Dallas has all the weapons to challenge the Lakers and Spurs for an NBA Finals berth.
Nowitzki is the leader of this team, and his teammates thrive off his energy.
Though he sometimes falls into funks, he can be deadly from the outside when on.
Derrick Rose is quickly establishing himself as the top point guard in the game.
The next step for him will be to lead his team on a deep playoff run.
The Chicago Bulls are currently tied with the Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference and will likely draw one of the lower seeds in the first round.
Rose will need to keep up the intensity to avoid a first-round upset. He and his teammates would love the chance to surpass the Celtics as the juggernaut team in the East.
What more can be said about Tim Duncan?
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been lucky that his team has been blowing out teams this season, which has allowed him to rest Duncan late in games.
Duncan will be extremely fresh for the playoffs, which is a scary thought for other Western Conference teams.
He’s a rebounding machine that draws fouls and makes his free throws.
With Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker playing well, Duncan looks that much better.
The Spurs pulled away from the pack early this season, so it will be interesting to see them in a tight seven-game series.
LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat with the hopes of winning a championship.
Well, his wish is within his grasp as the Heat will likely enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. Now is the time that James will need to step up to prove he is a championship-caliber player.
Despite the presence of Dwyane Wade, the ball will likely be in James’ hands with the game on the line.
He can send a statement to the league with a strong showing in the playoffs that he has turned the corner in his career from being a dominant regular season player to an NBA champion.
When you think of the Boston Celtics, the names Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce immediately come to mind.
However, the staple that has held those pieces together has been Rajon Rondo.
Rondo has averaged 11.5 assists per game, and he will need to continue this output into the playoffs.
He is fighting a finger injury, but that likely won’t sideline the budding superstar.
While the other three Celtics may do the bulk of the scoring, Rondo is the most important player on the roster.
Kevin Durant can do just about everything on the basketball court.
The Thunder will be relying heavily on Durant to continue his strong season into the playoffs.
Oklahoma City is in an interesting situation. As a middle-of-the-pack team in the Western Conference, they will likely avoid facing one of the powerhouse teams.
If Durant can build some momentum in a first-round playoff victory, his next opponent better be wary.
Durant can score with anybody in the league, and now the 22-year-old will attempt to establish a championship pedigree.
After all these years, Kobe Bryant still has the same passion and intensity as the first time he suited up for the Lakers.
This could be a crucial postseason for Bryant.
Not only will the Lakers be shooting for a three-peat, but Bryant will also be seeking his sixth NBA championship, which would tie him with the legendary Michael Jordan.
Though the Lakers have a variety of weapons, none are as important to the team as Bryant.
Expect the Lakers to live or die by Bryant this postseason as he attempts to further etch his name into the NBA history books.