THERE'S A common denominator among these veterans: They all have something to prove. Which ones will come through when it matters most?
RICKY DAVIS (below), CELTICS Though coach Doc Rivers keeps him on a short leash, taking him out whenever his shooting or emotions veer out of control, the 6'7" swingman is a contender for the Sixth Man Award. Davis's instant offense (16.1 points in 33.0 minutes per game) could help Boston make noise in the second round; if he gets carried away and turns the playoffs into a one-on-one tournament, he could expose the Celtics to an opening-round upset.
ANTONIO MCDYESS, PISTONS After undergoing three left knee surgeries the previous three seasons, the 6'9" former All-Star has been a reliable contributor off the bench, spelling either of the Wallaces (center Ben or forward Rasheed). McDyess, 30, will not only have to rebound and play solid D but also provide more scoring than he did in the regular season (9.7 points through Sunday) because Detroit's bench lacks the punch it had last year.
ANDRE MILLER, NUGGETS Denver is the West's scariest underdog because its point guard has found his groove. Miller was averaging 14.5 points (53.7% shooting) and 9.7 assists in April, and his assists-to-turnover ratio was a sterling 3.23 to 1. Since signing a six-year, $51 million free-agent deal with the Nuggets in 2003, Miller has watched the spotlight fall on Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and coach George Karl--even his backup, 5'5" Earl Boykins, has gotten more attention. But don't underestimate Miller's value: Critics may deride his conservative play, but it should serve Denver well in the postseason.
JERRY STACKHOUSE, MAVERICKS During its 2003 run to the Western finals, Dallas depended heavily on the marksmanship of reserve guard Nick Van Exel. This year Stackhouse, a 6'6" swingman, will have to be the deadly shooter off the bench while providing two other elements the Mavs have sorely lacked: post-up ability and a knack for getting to the line. At 30, he has a chance to show that he still ranks among the league's elite scorers.
BOB SURA, ROCKETS At week's end Houston was 40--19 with the 32-year-old point guard in the starting lineup and 9--12 when he was sidelined by a bad back. The Rockets were holding opponents to 42.3% shooting through Sunday (second in the league), but Sura's greatest contribution has been at the offensive end, supplying a jump start for a team loaded with plodders. Playing for his fourth team in three seasons, Sura was averaging 5.2 assists, a career-high 5.5 boards and 10.1 points, his highest output since 2000--01.
-- Ian Thomsen