It's all about the stars. Everybody knows that.
If you're going to get to the postseason and beyond, it helps to have one of the big boys -- a Kevin or a Kobe, a Timmy or a Tracy, for example, would do just fine. But don't forget, behind every successful No. 1 and No. 2 option is a behind-the-scenes player just itching to make a contribution.
|Linas Kleiza makes the hustle plays and he can score. (AP)|
Here are five peripheral players who could make an impact down the stretch.
The Nuggets are all about Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, but they need a consistent third scorer on nights when Iverson goes 8-for-23 from the field. The statistics show that Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Marcus Camby and Kleiza divvy up Iverson and Anthony's leftover touches.
But it is the 6-foot-8 Kleiza, a strong driver with an acceptable touch, who is most suited to be the No. 3 option. Martin and Camby aren't big scorers, period; Smith is inconsistent.
Kleiza, who had a 41-point game this year against Utah, has scored 15 or more points in 10 games for the Nuggets since January. Denver is 9-1 in those games. Can you say barometer?
• Mickael Pietrus, Golden State: Pietrus was an unrestricted free agent last summer and hoped to sign a multi-year contract with the Warriors, or someone else. Didn't happen. He was hoping for a trade before the February deadline. Didn't happen.
Whether Pietrus was bothered or distracted by all this isn't clear. What is obvious, though, is that Pietrus is focused now and has been a big factor for the Warriors in recent weeks.
When Pietrus can get into the Warriors' mix, he can help in a variety of ways. Most important: on the glass. Golden State is a notoriously poor rebounding team, but Pietrus is an excellent rebounder for his position.
Pietrus is averaging nine rebounds over the past six, not something to overlook on the smallish Warriors. What Pietrus gives the Warriors is another finisher on the break, a bothersome defender and an occasional 3-point threat. He doesn't often put all of that together at one time, but Pietrus is closer to doing it now than he ever has been before.
• Joe Smith, Cleveland: That's right, Joe Smith. If you could for a moment, consider Smith without the "No. 1 pick" tag. Think of him as someone who played just two years of college (he did) and then got plucked in the middle of the first round (he should have been).