The NBA’s regular season is almost over now and with the playoffs just around the corner, we can go ahead and try to make our picks as who may thrive and who may choke when it matters the most.

Obviously, what’s been done in the regular season is extremely important, but come playoff time, it would be just a reference, and a couple of bad moves can make you pack your bags and go home regardless of how good you’ve been through the first passage of the campaign.

Year in and year out, we get either surprised or disappointed by the league’s superstars, and this year won’t be the exception. That’s why we’re going to talk about the players that have the most to prove during this year’s playoffs.

 

5. Kyle Lowry and DeRozan

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors look extremely solid and they’ve locked themselves as the team to beat and the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference, outplaying pretty much every single opponent in their home court and establishing an elite three-point shooting defense as well as a beautifully orchestrated offense.

Nevertheless, they have a history of choking when it matters the most, especially when they have to face LeBron James in the playoffs. DeRozan’s been quietly having an MVP kind of campaign, but he needs to take a leap forward and prove that he’s a true superstar. Also, Lowry’s one of the league’s big chokers, so he needs to prove his doubters wrong this year and lead this team to the Finals.

 

4. Russell Westbrook

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

You may believe that after averaging a triple-double for a season and almost doing so the very next year, Russell Westbrook has few things to prove at this stage of his career, but you’re vastly wrong, as more than stat padding, he needs to show that he’s matured and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Thunder.

Westbrook tends to hog the ball during clutch time and always wants to do it all for his team, so he needs to prove that he can actually adapt to playing next to 2 All-Star talents and trust them during key stretches, especially if both of them are much better shooters than he is, and with him being such a terrific facilitator.

 

3. Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of the Cleveland Cavaliers because he wanted to be “the man”, and after a great start of the season with an MVP kind of year, he won’t have a better shot at proving that he can actually be the team’s go-to-guy during the playoffs than this season.

The Celtics are missing Hayward, while Brown and Tatum are still quite young, so if Irving wants to be taken -more- seriously, he needs to prove that he has what it takes to help this team win and make it back to the NBA Finals, especially if he’s set to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason.

 

2. Kawhi Leonard

While the San Antonio Spurs still aren’t a lock to make the playoffs in the wild Western Conference, Kawhi Leonard coming back could definitely mean a huge push in the right direction for Popovich’s squad as we’re nearing the end of the regular season.

So, if Leonard’s actually able to make a comeback and shakes off the rust in time, he still needs to prove that he hasn’t lost his touch in both ends of the hardwood during this year on the bleachers, as he’s by far the most talented man in Pop’s system and San Antonio has craved his defensive expertise all season long.

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1. Chris Paul and James Harden

The Houston Rockets look like the favorite to take home the NBA Championship this year, especially considering how banged up the Golden State Warriors are right now and how well the team’s front office has done to surround James Harden with elite 3 and D players to match up perfectly against the Dubs.

Still, Harden has a huge history of choking in the playoffs, while Chris Paul is yet to make his first NBA Finals appearance, so both of them have a lot on the line this season, being two of the best players in the history of the game and looking like the team to beat this year.

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