Sports, if nothing else, is performance under pressure and anxiety. In the specific, who can rise to the occasion and distinguish themselves? Can they fight through adversity and come out the winner? The 2017 playoffs will ask and answer those questions.
Who has the most to lose by a bad playoffs? The usual suspects.
Paul George: In a Sisyphus trying to push the rock uphill way, George has the unfortunate task of trying to beat the Cavaliers. He has faced LeBron James enough times to not be intimidated. But what can his teammates do? How they perform will determine if George is in Indiana next year or traded in July. He is a free agent in 2018 and probably will miss out on the $200 million dollar payday because of the All-NBA criteria which will elude him this year, making him a tantalizing trade piece for teams needing a superstar. George will play well. His teammates are a question mark since most of the year they have underachieved. This may be George’s last playoff run with the Pacers.
Ty Lue: The Cavs have been an unsolved mystery the second half of the season. They had legitimate injury issues, as always, but in a lot of games, they look disinterested and a little arrogant, as if they don’t need to care about the regular season. As if it’s above them. Blame Ty Lue. He is responsible for the culture and the temperature of the team. If the Cavs lose before the Finals Ty Lue is going to be blamed for not doing enough to turn a dismal second half of the season around.
Kevin Durant: Similarly to Steph Curry in the NBA Finals, if Kevin Durant underperforms he can fall back on the injury excuse. But no one is going to let him off that easily. He broke off his OKC marriage because he wanted to win a championship and it was his belief that the Warriors gave him that opportunity. Regardless how great Durant is, if the Warriors lose it will begin a narrative that if Durant can’t win with the Warriors and he can’t win with the Thunder, he just can’t win. Remember the NBA Finals in 2013? He was swept the last four games to lose in 5.
Chris Paul/Blake Griffin: This is put up or shut up for the duo who have early termination clauses in their contract, effective July 1. They have been together for 5 years and have nothing to show for it, not even a Western Conference Finals appearance. If they lose to the Jazz in the first round or the Warriors in the second, their careers may take on an entirely different look as maybe one or both decides to change cities.
Doc Rivers: The coach/GM hasn’t had a good playoff spring since his Celtics team won the title in 2008. Some of his lowlights: He lost a game 6 in the 2010 NBA Finals when his team, up 3-2, just mailed it in, using the we have a game 7 excuse. Then in game 7 his team was up by 13 points and lost. He had a 3-1 lead against the Houston Rockets, lost a double digit lead at home in game 6, a closeout game, and then had to go to Houston for a game 7 where he lost. He needs redemption because less is not more in the NBA playoffs. He has two semi-finals losses, and one first round loss.
Mike D’Antoni: He has redeemed himself with the James Harden miracle and his Houston team is looking pretty for a Western Conference run but D’Antoni has to change the regurgitated argument that he doesn’t coach defense and because he doesn’t his teams will always be ill equipped in the playoffs. D’Antoni has had some heartbreaking playoff series and this year he can put all that misery in the rear view mirror but his team has to make shots when the three ball is not falling and they have to guard people.
LeBron James: It doesn’t matter if the Cavs win or don’t win. It matters if LeBron James wins because unlike every other NBA player he is competing against history. If he gets to 4 NBA titles he matches Shaq. If he stays at 3 he is in company with his good friend Wade with the greatest of all winners (MJ, Magic, Kobe, Duncan) still ahead of him and LeBron getting another year older. His leadership skills will be put to the test with a Cavs team that looks drained and listless.
Dwight Howard: A regular season player who flames out in the post season, can Dwight lead his team to the Eastern Conference Finals? Can he be tough when adversity comes his way? Or will he just toss the Superman cape to Paul Millsap who digs his way through and competes no matter what, drama excluded? Dwight doesn’t have everything riding on his performance. He signed a big contract so he doesn’t have anything to prove. Dwight is either loved or despised. But he can alter his image by how he performs under the glaring lights which in the past has been a Howard weakness.