Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
We’re near the end of a crazy, compacted season. Give us a player who has been heavily leaned-on during this breakneck schedule who may be in danger of flaming out in the playoffs.
Steve Aschburner: The easy answer would be Kobe Bryant, given his minutes, his advanced years and his usage rate for the Lakers. Baron Davis might experience a shock to his system, taking on the stretch-drive load that the Knicks need now with Jeremy Lin sidelined. But neither of those is my final answer. I’m going with Chicago forward Luol Deng, who is trying to make it through most of the season, whatever playoff push the Bulls enjoy and the 2012 London Olympics playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist. Surgery would have wiped out most or all of that for Deng, the most used (39.0 mpg) and versatile tool in Tom Thibodeau‘s belt. But just because Kobe played through something similar once doesn’t mean most mortals can do that. Deng feels it every time he falls or takes a whack on that wrist, and it has affected some of his moves on the court.
Fran Blinebury: If Kobe has a few more 3-for-20 shooting nights and the Lakers lose in the playoffs, is he the “flame-out” you’re looking for? Can Lamar Odom qualify as a “flame-out” if he’s been just a soggy pack of matches all season? If you’re looking for someone who needs to stop playing games, get his head screwed on straight and deliver in the playoffs, well, there’s that infamous 3-point shooter Mr. Bynum. He could be the difference in the Lakers making a real run at The Finals or crashing and burning early.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Bad trend for Jameer Nelson: He has shot worse than 38 percent in two of the last three playoffs. Bad trend for the Magic.
Shaun Powell: I wonder about Chris Paul, never accused of being the sturdiest player in his career, continuing to play at a high level without Chauncey Billups. He does have Randy Foye and Mo Williams for relief, but neither can run the team or involve teammates quite like Paul; the Clippers suffer when he isn’t on the floor. He has led this late charge (six straight wins) that rescued Vinny Del Negro and the club from flirting with disaster; will he feel the effects in May? Possibly.
John Schuhmann: It’s got to be Kobe Bryant, right? He’s 33, leads the league in minutes and in usage rate. The addition of Ramon Sessions definitely helps, but Bryant shot 39 percent in March, which is not a good sign. He’s a warrior, but Mike Brown needs to find a way to keep him fresh in the next few weeks.
Sekou Smith: In this era of friends playing with friends, there are few superstars burdened with the responsibility of carrying a team on their own. Of course, that’s not the way some people view things in Chicago. No one disputes the quality of the team, the coaching and the vision the Bulls have in chasing their championship glory. But in a league where it’s traditionally taken multiple superstars to win titles, Derrick Rose will have some serious heavy lifting to do come playoff time. And coming off of a regular season that has seen him miss as much time as he has, it wouldn’t be stunning to see him push himself to the physical limit in the postseason. He’ll have to be extra careful, as will the Bulls, with making sure he doesn’t try and overdo it in an effort to make up for time missed.