Lakers center Dwight Howard, shown against Portland's J.J. Hickson. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Writers from around the Tribune Co. discuss which NBA player has to step up the most for his team to advance in the playoffs. Feel free to join the conversation with a comment of your own.
The playoffs have already started for Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers.
If the Utah Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, then Howard’s Lakers must beat the Houston Rockets that night just to reach the postseason.
Note the phrase “Howard’s Lakers.”
With Kobe Bryant sidelined by a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Lakers are Howard’s team now. They’ll go only as far as he’ll take them.
Howard should’ve had a more central role in the Lakers’ offense all season long, even when Bryant was healthy. Howard remains the most dominant center in the NBA, and the Lakers made a mistake when they failed to use his low-post scoring ability. There were too many instances when Earl Clark — Earl Clark! — took more shots than Dwight.
Now, without Bryant, the Lakers have no choice but to rely on Howard.
The Lakers are his team now. They’ll go as far as he — and his free-throw shooting — will take them.
Shandel Richardson, South Florida Sun Sentinel
The Miami Heat are the overwhelming favorite in the East.
The New York Knicks are the closest thing the Heat have to competition in the conference. So, naturally, it’s going to take an extraordinary effort from Carmelo Anthony if the Knicks are to pull off the unthinkable. Anthony has been on a tear of late in his chase to win the NBA’s scoring title.
Whatever he has done the past few weeks has to be multiplied. On top of scoring, Anthony will have to prove he can affect the game in other areas if the Knicks want any chance of defeating the Heat. In short, Anthony will have to play more like LeBron James.
If this happens, the fans should be in for a treat if the teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. But Anthony must find a way to make his teammates better if there are any hopes of the title landing in New York.
K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune
Joakim Noah has to step up big for his Bulls to advance in the NBA playoffs. More accurately, Noah merely has to step big since he has been battling a painful and severe case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
It's the second time in four seasons Noah has dealt with the condition, and he could enter the postseason on a minutes limit. The Bulls experienced first-hand what losing Noah on top of Derrick Rose can mean. Noah suffered a gruesome sprained ankle two games after Rose tore his left ACL and the top-seeded Bulls fell to the eighth-seeded 76ers.
Noah is the emotional engine that makes the Bulls go defensively. Given that they struggle to score often, particularly with Rose still sidelined, defense and rebounding are even more paramount. And playoff basketball stresses those departments anyway. Noah must prove he can stay on the court and play at a high level if the Bulls want to advance.
[Updated at 12:44 p.m.:
Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets. With Danilo Gallinari out for the playoffs and Kenneth Faried questionable for at least Denver's opener because of a severely sprained ankle, the Nuggets need Chandler to fill the void with the types of performances he has produced over the last 10 days.
In four starts over that span, the forward has averaged 22.3 points, helping the Nuggets win three of those four games. That's nearly double his season average of 12.8 points per game.]