The NBA playoffs are a time when legends are made and heroes exalted. It is the answer to 12 months of speculation and a justification of adulation. Teams become increasingly evenly matched as April moves into May so it takes a few X-Factors to possibly swing the result. Here are some likely candidates:
#1 Miami Heat vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks
X-Factor: Dwayne Wade — Is he healthy? It might not matter honestly this series as LeBron could possibly singlehandedly put away this subpar Bucks team.
X-Factor: Monta Ellis – He have it all. He has a propensity to heat up (pun not intended) at any moment, despite his generally poor shooting numbers. He verbally put himself in the same class as D Wade. Can he back it up? Doubtful.
Prediction: Heat in 4. Sorry Bucks fans, not even a gentleman’s sweep, only the clean variety.
#2 New York Knicks vs. #7 Boston Celtics
X-Factor: Jason Kidd — We remember him two years ago hitting threes and locking down perimeter players in the Mavericks’ run to the NBA Championship. Can he sustain that performance at the advance age of 40?
X-Factor: Jason Terry — We also remember him hitting corner threes, pull up threes in transition, and generally any three he felt like taking in that same run. Could he aid Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in pulling the upset?
Prediction: Knicks in 5. The Knicks win a playoff series for the first time in 13 years.
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks
X-Factor: George Hill — He has quietly put together a very solid season after receiving a hefty 5 year, $40 million contract in the offseason. He can stretch the floor to open up room for David West to work down low. Like the Pacers, it won’t be pretty but it will undoubtedly be effective.
X-Factor: Jeff Teague — Is it the return of #PlayoffTeague? He’ll have to put together a series like the one against Chicago two years ago against then reigning MVP Derrick Rose for the Hawks to have a shot in this matchup.
Prediction: Indiana in 7. Sorry Hawks fans. The losses of Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia will show as there will be extensive Johan Petro use to combat the 7’2” Roy Hibbert. The Pacers are far-and-away the best defensive team, according to defensive efficiency, and the Hawks have few go-to options to get easy points at this stage in the season.
#4 Brooklyn Nets vs. #5 Chicago Bulls
X-Factor: Jimmy Butler — Honestly, with the way Coach Thibodeau doles out minutes, Butler may be crowded out of the playoff rotation in favor of a full 48 minutes of Luol Deng. Still, he’s a tough defender and increasingly lethal offensive player who could bust out and make a huge impact.
X-Factor: Deron Williams — After a brutal first half of the season, he has started to regain his superstar status over the past few months. He should be able to blow by the likes of Kirk Hinrich with ease and lead his team in this deadlocked pairing.
Prediction: Chicago in 7. This is just a fight to get escorted out by the Heat in the next round.
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #8 Houston Rockets
X-Factor: Kevin Martin — This is the easiest X-Factor to pick. We know what Durant will bring. We know what Russell Westbrook will bring. Can Martin sustain his efficiency when it matters most? I wager he will.
X-Factor: James Harden — He’s been fantastic all season long, blowing by all expectations set by most NBA onlookers after arriving Houston just days before the first game. He faces his old team and good buddies in Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Could he have something in store as an encore?
Prediction: — Oklahoma City in 6. The Rockets will make it interesting as they are the only team with enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with Durant and the Thunder. Expect some 120-118 games, even at the slower postseason pace.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers
X-Factor: Manu Ginobili — Is he healthy? He’s been dealing witha nagging hamstring injury and only played 12 minutes in the season finale. If so, the Spurs are a threat to escape the Western bracket. If not, there will be a heavy reliance on Danny Green and Gary Neal to step up in his place and produce. It shouldn’t matter in a first round series without the sometimes unguardable Kobe Bryant but it could be a glaring position of weakness in later rounds.
X-Factor: Dwight Howard — Is HE healthy? If he isn’t, he can’t let it show in order for the Lakers to have a chance. As the de facto leader of the Lakers now, his performance may go a long way to determining his future with the Lakers. In the two games since the Kobe Bryant injury, he has averaged 21 points and 17.5 rebounds per game. If he can return to his 2008-2011 playoff norm, the Lakers will not go quietly in this series.
Prediction: San Antonio in 5. The Spurs are very vulnerable as they are sporting a few untimely injuries but their opponent narrowly grabbed a playoff spot and is lacking its best player. The Lakers will bow out quickly.
#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Golden State Warriors
X-Factor: JaVale McGee — McGee is mercurial but talented enigma who is known across the internet and by TNT’s Actin’ A Fool fans as that actor of boneheaded plays. Still, he can affect games by finishing lobs and altering shots on the defensive end. I would wager he sees more minutes than Kosta Koufos in this run-and-gun matchup.
X-Factor: Stephen Curry — This is Steph’s first taste at the playoffs, leading Golden State in the first season since the “I Believe” Warriors who upset the 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks. Look for Curry to take advantage of the excruciating pace of both team. It should resemble something like a game at the local Y after every player drank a couple of Red Bulls. Curry may break the three point record for a series if that happens.
Prediction: Denver in 7. Denver is too lethal an opponent but I think the Warriors will make it very interesting for the majority of the series.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
X-Factor: DeAndre Jordan — He will be counted on to neutralize the big Grizzlies frontline but has trouble seeing the court in crunchtime because of his free throw shooting woes. Despite starting all 82 games this season, the $10M man has barely average 24 minutes a game, presumably because of foul trouble and the aforementioned free throw shooting. Memphis may resort to a hack-a-Jordan strategy if the going gets tough.
X-Factor: Mike Conley — He has the task of guarding the best point guard in the league. But he’s also known as one of the, if not the, best defensive point guard in the league. He had a head first experience dealing with Chris Paul in this identical series last year; can he do an even better job this postseason?
Prediction: Memphis in 7. This is easily the hardest series to call. Last season, these two were locked in a thrilling 7 game series but this time the Grizzlies will come out on top.
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