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Fran Blinebury

Dwight Howard and Amar'e Stoudemire will be two of the most scrutinized players come playoff time.
NBAE via Getty Images

These mercurial stars control their team's playoff fate

Posted Apr 13 2012 2:29PM

It was 100 years ago this weekend that the majestic Titanic went down after hitting an iceberg in the frigid waters of the north Atlantic.

So, with the start of the 2012 NBA postseason approaching in just two weeks, it's a good time to take a look at a half dozen players who could sink their teams' ship in the playoffs.

Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

Will it be a bad back, bad free throwing shooting or bad karma left over from the "Dwightmare" that kept Orlando fans and his coach and teammates twisting in the wind right up until the trade deadline when he jumped back and forth across the fence like a confused bullfrog?

As if surviving the long slog that is the playoffs weren't tough enough already, now the Magic have to carry the burden of a solid run in order to make Howard content going into the summer, when he'll likely ask to have the roster remade -- again.

His poor free throw shooting has always made him a liability down the stretch and now you add in his fragile emotional state that was further revealed Video during the deadline soap opera and watching for the cracks will become a subplot in every game as Magic management rearranges the deck chairs.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

It's fashionable, not to mention quite easy, to say that Oklahoma City and leading man Kevin Durant would more easily thrive with a point guard out of the traditional mold than Westbrook. But it might not be right. For all of the times that he makes Thunder fans want to slap their foreheads after another crazy jumper, there are the times when he can make you slap your head in amazement when he takes over a situation.

The challenge isn't to break the wild streak in him completely and turn him into a docile pony that gives rides at birthday parties, but to channel that energy. However, his biggest liability is turning 1-on-1 matchups against a high-profile opposite number into a personal showdown and the with the likes of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and even the venerable Jason Kidd looming in the West, there are a slew of reasons to be ready to send out an S.O.S. message.

Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers

Nobody doubts his size, his strength, his skills and his ability to team up with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to transform the Lakers from an inconsistent team all through the regular season into a legitimate championship threat. Those concerns are only about his attitude and maturity. When he stripped off his jersey at the end of last year's playoff sweep by the Mavs and then was suspended for the first four games of this season, it was written off as part of the learning process and Bynum grew magnificently into the starting center for the Western Conference All-Stars.

But he went on a weeks-long bender of pique and self-entitlement that got him ejected from two games and fined by the club, the Lakers had every reason to start worrying again.

When Bynum goes out and gets 30 rebounds against an elite team like the Spurs, there is no questioning his credentials. But until he can demonstrate that his childish emotions won't consume him, he's rogue wave that could end up dumping the entire crew overboard.

Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

One glimpse at the numbers and it's clear that Smith is having a monster all-around season, one that should have finally landed him a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. He says the lack of respect is all political from people who don't really know him, yet there remain the nagging doubts about whether, in the absence of Al Horford, he can carry the Hawks past their usual second round exit.

How many of those jumpers he loves to put up, often to the dismay of even his supporters, will go down at the crunch time that arrives regularly in the playoffs? Will he revert to his sometimes out of control form in the deep water?

Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

A year ago, Randolph hungrily attacked the playoffs like they were a plate of dry-rub ribs at the Rendezvous in Memphis, chewing up virtually any defender who tried to get in his path as the main man in the Grizzlies' attack. Now that he's come back off the shelf after 2 months with a knee injury, Z-Bo has been moved to the second unit by coach Lionel Hollins. The Grizzlies are 1-6 with Randolph in the starting lineup this season and are now 9-3 since he began coming off the bench on March 25.

Hollins has made the case correctly to Z-Bo that he is much more valuable to his team paired with O.J. Mayo and Gilbert Arenas on the second unit. But despite his public comments saying he is on board with the decision, the word is that Randolph is unhappy, if not seething, at the perceived demotion and a playoff loss or two could rip open a hole in the hull of the S.S. Grizzlies.

Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks

He's another former All-Star who is not at all accustomed to taking a seat in the aft compartment, but the question is whether his eventual return from a bulging disk in his back will rock the boat when he tries to squeeze his way back into the starting lineup and co-exist with Carmelo Anthony. When he announced "The Knicks are back!" upon signing with the club last year, Stoudemire expected to be at the helm for the resurgence and he did thrive this season during the magical period of "Linsanity."

But with coach Mike D'Antoni gone, point guard Jeremy Lin and his pick-and-rolls sidelined, the New York offense is being run through Anthony at the power forward and he's thrived on taking advantage of mismatches. The Amar'e-Melo combination has rarely run smooth in the two seasons they've been together and two guys trying to row the lifeboat in opposite directions could take everyone underwater in a first-round matchup against the Heat or Bulls.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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