State’s NBA stars in playoff mode

Kawhi Leonard has gone from being Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year at M.L. King of Riverside to become a major contributor for the San Antonio Spurs. Photo: Scott Kurtz.

Kawhi Leonard has gone from being Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year at M.L. King of Riverside to become a major contributor for the San Antonio Spurs. Photo: Scott Kurtz.

California’s current collection of NBA alums is borderline spectactular. Here’s our look at the 10 most important California high school alums as the NBA playoffs are getting into high gear.

Attention young athletes: To check out info and to sign up for the first-ever Cal-Hi Sports/Gold Medal Excellence All-Sports Speed Camp and All-State Football Combine, CLICK HERE for June 14 event in Tracy or CLICK HERE for June 22 event in Bakersfield.

As the first-round of the various NBA playoff series have already featured overtime thrillers and possible upsets, it’s hard to believe that so many key players in these series are from California high schools.

The close scores and unpredictable outcomes probably have many oddsmakers pulling out their hair, but one place to make sense of it all is at Sports Betting Dime.

After double-checking our own state record book and comparing current stats of these players, here is a breakdown of the 10 most crucial players from California currently involved in the NBA playoffs:

1. Kahwi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
The 2009 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year from M.L. King of Riverside will probably be taking on the defensive assignment for the Spurs against the opposing team’s top player. His play was certainly important last year when San Antonio advanced to the NBA Finals and lost in seven games to Miami. If Leonard scores, it’s an added bonus.

2. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
One of the league’s most prolific scorers, the graduate from Artesia of Lakewood will have to ramp it up even more to help the Rockets try to overcome a 2-0 deficit in their first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. He had 35 points on Friday night in an overtime win.

3. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Westbrook can be an up-and-down player for the Thunder but there are few point guards in basketball like him. If the Leuzinger of Lawndale grad can string together some strong outings while at the same time superstar Kevin Durant is hitting on all cylinders, Oklahoma City has a good chance of coming back to beat Memphis in its first-round series.

4. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
The Trail Blazers vs Rockets series is loaded with Californians including Jeremy Lin (Palo Alto) for the Rockets and Robin Lopez (Fresno San Joaquin Memorial) for the Blazers. Lillard, who is from Oakland High, was the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and has a big advantage with quickness when Lin is guarding him.

5. Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
Yet another emerging NBA superstar from California, George is much like Lillard in that neither one was regarded as some big-time college recruit coming out of high school. For George, who is from Knight of Palmdale, he had an awful Game 3 in Indiana’s current series against Atlanta but in the first two games he had 24 and 27 points, respectively.

6. DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
It looks like it’s going to be tough for the Raptors to get past the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, but DeRozan has been sizzling with 30 points in a Game 2 win and 30 again on Friday in a Game 3 loss. This has already been a breakthrough year for the former Compton High standout since he made his first NBA All-Star Game.

7. Paul Pierce (Brooklyn Nets)
Although he’s coming to the end of his very likely Hall of Fame career and probably isn’t as effective at this stage as some of the other young emerging stars from California, Pierce is still a seasoned playoff veteran and can still score in bunches. He was the 1995 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year from Inglewood.

8. Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
With the Los Angeles Clippers showing so much attention to stopping Thompson’s backcourt runningmate, Steph Curry, Thompson has been thrust into a key role in the series. The Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) grad scored 22 points in Game 1, which is a game the Warriors won.

9. Trevor Ariza (Washington Wizards)
The 2003 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year from Westchester of Los Angeles already has a ring when he played a few years ago with the Lakers. He’s back in the playoffs this year as a key starter for a Wizards’ team that took a 2-0 series lead over the Chicago Bulls until falling in Game 3 on Friday. Ariza averaged 14 points per game this season.

10. Amir Johnson (Toronto Raptors)
We could have gone with a couple of other players for this last spot, but Johnson just had 16 points in a win against Brooklyn and has been averaging 10.4 per game for the season. He was named the 2005 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year and is from Westchester, two years after Trevor Ariza of the Comets won it.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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