With seven weeks to go in the season, the jockeying for playoff seeding has already begun. At week's end Boston, Miami and Chicago were separated by two games at the top of the Eastern Conference standings while Indiana, Charlotte and Milwaukee were 3½ games apart in the race for eighth. Out west, Memphis and Utah were tied for the No. 8 seed, just 1½ games behind No. 5 Portland. Here are five under-the-radar players who could give their teams a boost during the stretch run.
Delonte West, G, Boston
A 10-game suspension for pleading guilty to carrying a concealed weapon plus a broken right wrist suffered on Nov. 24 have limited West to five games this season. He's due back this week, and the Celtics are counting on the 6'3" combo guard to reduce the workload on Rajon Rondo (37.7 minutes per game) and Ray Allen (36.1) while also playing alongside them in three-guard sets until Marquis Daniels, who is out indefinitely with a neck injury, returns to the lineup.
O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis
Mayo's season has been one problem after another: In November he lost his starting job, and in January he scuffled with Tony Allen on the team plane and drew a 10-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Still, Rudy Gay's shoulder injury could necessitate Mayo's return to the starting lineup, where he has been much more productive. His three-point percentage is 40.7 when he starts, 32.3 when he comes off the bench.
Timofey Mozgov, C, New York
Mozgov was handed a starting job that he wasn't ready for early in the season. Now the timing is right. After sitting out all but three games in January while he adjusted to the NBA, the 7'1", 250-pound Russian rookie started five of the Knicks' seven in February, averaging 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22.4 minutes. Starting a natural center should take pressure off Amar'e Stoudemire, a power forward who has been forced to play out of position for most of the season.
Paul George, F, Indiana
Few players have benefited more from the Pacers' coaching change than George, who went from a fits-and-starts role under Jim O'Brien to steady minutes under Frank Vogel. The 6'8" George has demonstrated an ability to be a defensive stopper—he held Dwyane Wade to 5-of-14 shooting last month—while cracking double figures in six of the last 10 games.
Roddy Beaubois, G, Dallas