Posted Apr 9 2010 9:26AM
Kenny Smith once said it best: "In the regular season, you earn your fame. In the playoffs, you earn your name."
So here are some names to consider in the postseason, when reputations are enhanced or harmed. These aren't just the franchise players charged with playing at a high level in order to justify their high salaries and place in the pecking order. But these guys are important nonetheless if their teams have any dreams of going far into the playoffs.
• Shaquille O'Neal: This is why the Cavs made The Big Acquisition, for an XXXL edge in the post. Shaq is well past the superstar stage, more in the role-player mode, but that role will be vital should the Cavs meet up with Dwight Howard and Orlando along the way. The Cavs preserved him perfectly for the playoffs by not leaning on him or feeding him major minutes in the regular season. It's all about how much diesel is left in the tank.
• Mo Williams: He failed to come up clutch for Cleveland last spring when LeBron James drew double coverage and had to find open teammates. The pressure on Williams won't be as severe this time, mainly because Antawn Jamison will be around. Still, if the Cavs hope to win a championship, they'll need "mo" from Mo this time.
• Vince Carter: Almost by default, the off-season decision to add Carter and subtract Hedo Turkoglu is looking great for Orlando. Turkoglu is hurt now and before that, seemed lost in Toronto. Carter, after a quiet start, is pulling his weight as Orlando's first option on offense. It all depends on the postseason, however, because the Magic went to the Finals with Hedo. If Carter starts hoisting off-balanced 3-pointers and shooting below 40 percent, watch out.
• Jameer Nelson: He missed most of the playoff ride last season with a shoulder injury, and then when the Magic gambled and brought him back during the NBA Finals, he was rusty and ineffective. Nelson probably still has nightmares from failing to rotate and cover Derek Fisher, who dropped a few deadly 3-pointers in that series. Nelson can atone for that with a big spring.
• Josh Smith: After Joe Johnson, he is the Hawks' most versatile player and able to impact a game without scoring much. Mostly, he symbolizes the Hawks' athleticism, which gives them an edge over Boston and a chance against the Cavs (Atlanta lost twice to Cleveland in the final minute). Having patched up any differences with coach Mike Woodson and showing more maturity in every which way, Smith could be a postseason star if everything falls right.
• Kendrick Perkins: With Kevin Garnett limited by age and aches, and Rasheed Wallace still in love with the 3-point shot, the Celtics need "Perk" to fortify the low-post effort on both ends. Problem is, Perkins doesn't get plays run for him and sometimes comes up soft on the glass. He has scored 20 points once since Dec. 1 and grabbed 10 or more rebounds three times since the All-Star break, which should give the Celtics a reason to worry.
• Ray Allen: If this is Allen's swan song with the Celtics, then he might as well go out shooting. That would serve him well on the free agent market this summer, and the Celtics as well as they attempt to drag an old team through spring. Allen had 33 points on Sunday against the Cavs and when he's in rhythm, he remains a dangerous shooter. But the margin for error in the postseason, given KG's health status, remains slim for Boston.
• Stephen Jackson: The Bobcats are in the postseason for the first time ever, and their best hope could lie with Jackson. Just three seasons ago he was a big reason why the Warriors had a short but spirited run, complete with upsetting the No. 1-seeded Mavericks. Charlotte should enjoy the Jackson honeymoon while they can, because Jackson's history says he wears on an organization eventually.
Deron Williams, Jazz: 42 minutes, 14-for-23 shooting, 10 assists, 42 points against the Thunder.
Williams and Utah are surging as the season draws to a close, which is how championship contenders roll. He's putting a nice red ribbon on a breakout season for him, with a massive effort in one of the season's most entertaining games. The lack of a foul call for Kevin Durant (which the NBA admitted it blew) in the final seconds shouldn't overshadow the career-high scoring total from Williams, nor what he has meant to the Jazz in the home stretch.
Besides, he's been a double-double machine, had 19 assists against the Warriors and averaged 23 points and 13 assists over the last two weeks. Williams has matured into a solid player both on the break and the half-court and perhaps has overtaken Chris Paul as the best young point guard in the game.
Suddenly, the Jazz are poised to rattle any thoughts of the Lakers sprinting to another trip to the NBA Finals. It's still hard to bet against Kobe Bryant, or even Tim Duncan, both far more proven in the postseason than Williams. But don't be surprised if Utah, steadily rising in the Western Conference pecking order, pulls a minor surprise in May and June.
Lakers bench: 2-for-15 shooting, four points against the Spurs.
Surely, production will soar once Andrew Bynum returns to the lineup and Lamar Odom returns to s valuable sixth-man role. But even then, can the Lakers expect much from their second unit? Arguably, the only go five deep anyway: Bynum, Odom, Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol. The others are mild contributors at best, none with the ability of making a major difference in a game. Fisher does have a well-deserved reputation for making big shots, but this season he has looked particularly vulnerable. He has earned the right to withhold judgment; fair enough. But not anyone else.
It's all about matchups in the postseason and the Lakers, who've looked less than dominant the last month, better hope the right ones come their way.
• Can you imagine Rasheed Wallace's reaction had he received the silent whistle treatment, as Durant did? On second thought, maybe it's best we don't. The world, nor the NBA, doesn't need any more conspiracy theories.
• Five Kentucky underclassmen declaring for the Draft sounds like two too many.
• The Bucks suddenly went from the team nobody wanted to play in the first round, to the team everyone wants to play.
• Not sure whose injury will be more costly, Chris Bosh's or Andrew Bogut's. At least the Bucks are in the playoffs. The Raptors are in danger of both missing the postseason and, maybe sometime this summer, missing Bosh.
• The All-NBA second-half team: Bogut, Deron Williams, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Curry, Amar'e Stoudemire. Five best post-break teams: Jazz, Suns, Cavs, Magic and a special nod to the Spurs, doing it without Tony Parker.
• It would seem grossly unfair if the Grizzlies finished with a losing record, and Miami with a winning record. But it shows the value of Dwyane Wade, is if anyone doubted.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
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