From the intensity of the playoffs, the most memorable moments arise. Amid the chaos, reputations are forged, particularly for those whose renown does not (yet) land them gaudy shoe deals. Yesterday we took a look at hidden x-factors in the Grizzlies/Clippers series. Today we take a look at x-factors in the rest of the Western Conference First Round series.
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KAWHI LEONARD, San Antonio Spurs
It’s hard to pick just one x-factor from among the Spurs. After all, Gregg Popovich has made a career of constructing teams where role players transcend mere role player status and become indispensable contributors. While Leonard is a starter, he’s still a bit under the radar, shrouded by the greatness of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
Leonard is one of the best young perimeter defenders in the league. During the regular season, when Leonard sat, the Spurs gave up 4.3 more points per 100 possessions, equaling Tim Duncan’s defensive impact according to this measure (all stats per NBA.com/stats). As the Spurs advance in the playoffs, they will need Leonard to contain the league’s premier wings. Fortunately, Leonard can simultaneously accumulate playoff experience and save his legs for round two with the Spurs facing the hapless Lakers in round one.
METTA WORLD PEACE, Los Angeles Lakers
“Mamba out” is no longer just Kobe Bryant’s signature social media sign off; it is now also the phrase that encapsulates the Lakers’ postseason. And now we can likely add “Blake out” and “Nash out.” Given the above, Metta is not so much the Lakers’ x-factor as he is the Spurs’ second-round opponent’s x-factor. Which member of the Spurs will catch an “inadvertent” Metta elbow, and what will the impact of said potential elbow be on the Spurs’ round two performance? The world waits with bated breath.
WILSON CHANDLER, Denver Nuggets
Getting into a three-point shootout with the Warriors is not a winning proposition for most teams, much less for a poor three-point shooting team like the Nuggets (34.3 percent during the regular season). The Nuggets have shot 3-for-16 and 9-for-26 from downtown in the first two games of the series. In fact, the Nuggets attempted one more trey than the Warriors did in Game 2. The difference was the Warriors were 14-for-25, good for 56 percent, while the Nuggets came in at 34.6 percent clip.
If they are to beat the Warriors, the Nuggets will need heavy doses of Lawson dribble-drives, Brewer leak-outs, Miller old-man moves, and Iguodala defense (with as few Iggy non-layup/dunk takes as possible; he was an atrocious 31.2 percent from outside the restricted area).
All that being said, even if the Nuggets are to avoid three-point shootouts with the Warriors, they will still need production from beyond the arc. Wilson Chandler led the Nuggets during the regular season at 41.3 percent, but has struggled from three through the first two games at 1-for-8. In fact, Chandler has struggled overall, going 5-for-16 and 4-for-15 from the floor. Chandler is Denver’s most well rounded offensive threat, and the Nuggets cannot afford to any longer for Ill Will to break out of his slump.
CARL LANDRY, Golden State Warriors
As incredibly impressive as Tuesday night’s performance was, the Warriors will not be shooting 64.6 percent as a team every night. Jackson’s deployment of the ultra-small Curry-Thompson-Jack-Barnes-Bogut lineup was genius, but George Karl will make adjustments, and when he does, the Warriors will need Carl Landry more than ever. In an offense heavily dependent on finding open shooters, David Lee was critical to the Warriors’ ball movement. Out of two-man Warrior lineups, Lee is in each of the top four lineups when it comes to assist ratio (regular season, minimum 1000 minutes played).
Savvy veteran that he is, Landry has the chops to fill-in for Lee. Landry’s a hard-hat, lunch-pail type of guy who is adept at finding openings for off-ball cuts, can hit midrange jumpers, and most importantly, is a willing passer, meaning he will find shooter extraordinaires Curry and Thompson. Landry’s quickness and range allow him to be effective for smaller lineups, and with the lack of experience in Denver’s frontcourt, Landry’s shrewdness may prove to be vital.
NICK COLLISON, Oklahoma City Thunder
Though the Thunder emerged from Game 2 with a win against the Rockets, their escape was slowed by weak work on the boards. The Rockets collected 18 offensive rebounds, leading to a 27 to 15 advantage in second-chance points, with Omer Asik and Greg Smith getting a number of key easy looks to keep the Rockets in the game.
While the Rockets were not expected to give the Thunder too much trouble before a certain injury, in order to ensure smooth sailing the rest of round one, Collison needs to earn his keep and limit the number of second-chance opportunities allowed by the Thunder.
PATRICK BEVERLEY, Houston Rockets
After his Game 2 confrontations with Russell Westbrook (which led to Westbrook needing surgery), Beverley’s not so hidden anymore. Between James Harden and Jeremy Lin, Houston’s backcourt defense is unimpressive. Beverley’s long, winding journey to the Rockets has shaped him to play as a man possessed, an antidote to Houston’s otherwise lackluster backcourt defense. Beverley’s a pest on defense, shot blocks well for a point guard, and even appears to relish rebounding.
Now, with Lin hampered by injury, Beverley has been thrust into extended playing time, and has shown himself to be up to the challenge. Psychoanalysis of Russell Westbrook is incredibly passé, but maybe, just maybe, Beverley can take what he used to ruffle the feathers of OKC’s fallen star and use it against both the untested (Reggie Jackson) and the old (Derek Fisher).
Who are the biggest x-factors in the West?
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