The NBA playoffs are just around the corner and teams are preparing for the tough battle that lies ahead of them.
Now that the playoff seeds are pretty much set, it is interesting to see which players will come up big for their teams.
The playoffs, like usual, will be heavy with All-Stars. However, the players that make the biggest difference in the playoffs are not always the stars.
The key to winning a championship in the NBA is by getting consistent play from your role players and lesser stars. This type of player is also known as an "X-factor." An X-factor is that one player whom a team can rely on to contribute and cause mismatches for the opposing team.
An X-factor is not necessarily a role player or a lesser star, but it could also be a player who has been dealing with nagging injuries all season long.
The reason the Dallas Mavericks won the championship last season was not because of the play of their top stars, but instead it was the consistent play from Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea. Both Chandler and Barea are true definitions of what an X-factor is.
This slideshow will start off with predictions of where each team will be seeded in the Eastern Conference and who their X-factor is. The list will then continue the same way with the Western Conference.
Let's get to it.
Spencer Hawes is a very important player for the Philadelphia 76ers.
When Hawes was healthy in the beginning of the season, the 76ers looked great.
Then Hawes went down with an injury and missed a chunk of action in the middle of the season. The 76ers kept fighting hard, but eventually dropped from the third spot in the east back down to the eighth.
If Hawes is healthy and continues to put up consistently strong numbers, the 76ers just might have a chance at upsetting the Chicago Bulls.
Tyson Chandler was the glue that kept the Dallas Mavericks together last season. His play was a huge reason as to why the Mavericks won the NBA Finals.
Chandler will also be an X-factor in these playoffs because his size and presence down low can create some big time problems for the Miami Heat. Chandler got used to handling Miami's bigs, and he needs to put on a similar performance to what he did in the finals last season if the New York Knicks want to get past the Miami Heat.
Chandler is arguably the most important player on this team for playoff purposes.
Ryan Anderson is key for the Orlando Magic's success. Anderson has been playing out his mind all season long and if he is able to keep it going in the playoffs, the Magic could make some noise.
With Dwight Howard's nagging hernia, the Magic will need all the help they can get from Anderson and the rest of the role players.
Anderson is huge for this team. He could make or break their chances against the Indiana Pacers.
Now that Dwight Howard has been ruled out for the rest of the season, the Magic need efficient play from Anderson.
Al Horford went down with a horrible shoulder injury in early January. Horford was said to be back around April, and if he is able to play in the playoffs, he will be a very important part of the team's success.
Horford should not necessarily be considered an X-factor because he is one of the best players on the team, but his health is a big-time factor for the Hawks. His injury concerns may be the difference between advancing to the next round or being swept out of the first round.
If Horford can come back healthy and strong, he might help the Atlanta Hawks make a strong playoff push.
Kevin Garnett is arguably the best player on the Boston Celtics.
If you have seen the way KG has played in the last couple of weeks, you would know he has plenty left in the tank. Ever since KG started to heat up, the Celtics picked up their play and jumped to fourth place.
KG is the heart and soul of this team and the better he plays, the better the Celtics play. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are all very important to the Celtics, but if KG does not play well, they won't get very far.
Darren Collison must play well in the playoffs if the Indiana Pacers want to make it far.
He is the true X-factor for this team because if he plays well, the team will do well.
The Eastern Conference is point guard-heavy and if Collison allows for Rajon Rondo, Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Jrue Holiday have their way with him, the Pacers won't get very far.
Many expect for the Pacers to at least get past the first round, but in the second round against a tougher opponent, Collison must come up big.
Collison is the difference between making the Eastern Conference Finals and being eliminated in the second round.
If Bosh is able to play strong in the playoffs, which he just might do, the Heat will be unstoppable. Bosh was always the wild card with this team because everyone knew what to expect out of Wade and LeBron.
However, this may be the year where Heat fans are cheering for Bosh. He will likely have to go up against Tyson Chandler once again, which caused problems for him last year. If he is able to outplay Chandler, the Heat will cruise by the Knicks.
The Heat's success weighs on the soft shoulders of Bosh. If he can carry the team and be effective down low, LeBron may get his first ring.
Carlos Boozer is a true difference maker for the Bulls.
Boozer should come up big in the first round against a weaker Philadelphia frontcourt. After that, Boozer may run into a problem with either the Celtics, Knicks or Magic.
Boozer needs to play well against the strong power forwards in the East, or else the Bulls may have a hard time getting to the NBA Finals.
Now that the Utah Jazz have secured a playoff spot they need to make sure they are competitive in the first round. The best way to ensure competitiveness from the Jazz is if the team gets the very best out of Paul Milsap.
In the first round, the Jazz are going to face some tough competition in the post. The team will have a lot to handle because Tim Duncan, DeJaun Blair, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw are all very skilled big men who can dominate almost any other big man in any given match up.
If Milsap is able to effectively contribute to the team, they might be able to give the Spurs some fits. The way the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Spurs in last years playoffs was by great play from the bigs.
Milsap is the key for this young Jazz team if they want to get by the Spurs in the first round and continue beyond.
Shawn "The Matrix" Marion is going to be an integral part of the Dallas Mavericks' road to repeating. Marion has played well this season and last, but his playoff experience and veteran leadership will be key in the playoffs.
If anyone on the Mavericks knows the San Antonio Spurs, other than Dirk Nowitzki, it's Marion.
"The Matrix" has played the Spurs, Lakers and the other elite teams in the Western Conference plenty of times in the regular season and the playoffs. His familiarity with the opponents will come in handy throughout.
Expect Marion to come up big for this team down the stretch.
When healthy, Danilo Gallinari is one of the most dangerous men on the court.
No matter how hot or cold he is from the three-point line, the opposing team knows that he will destroy them if they don't keep an eye on him. Gallinari has missed a lot of games this season and the Denver Nuggets have suffered without him.
If Gallinari stays healthy in the first round, the Nuggets may just advance by upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers. Gallinari is definitely going to cause a lot of headaches to any team the Nuggets face, especially the Lake Show.
Zach Randolph was the biggest reason why the Memphis Grizzlies upset the San Antonio Spurs in last year's playoffs. Randolph has been out for most of the season and is now slowly working his way back to his normal form.
A healthy Randolph is not a good sign for the Los Angeles Clippers. Randolph will dominate Blake Griffin down low the way he dominated Tim Duncan last season. The Grizzlies will likely get past "Lob City" and that is when Randolph becomes the true X-factor.
If Randolph plays up to his All-Star ability, which he likely will, you might just see the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals.
Caron Butler needs to get it going if the Clippers want to get far in the playoffs. In the beginning of the season, the biggest surprise from the team was the play of Butler. When Chauncey Billups went down with an Achilles injury, Butler's production took a big dip.
Butler may just go back to that level of production in the playoffs. If he does, he will cause a lot of mismatches. A consistent Butler might just put the Clippers over the Grizzlies.
Not only is Butler an X-factor on the offensive side of the ball, but he is also an important defensive player. Butler will likely square off against Rudy Gay in the first round and he needs to make sure to contain him.
If the Clippers advance past the Grizzlies, Butler will likely face Kevin Durant.
Butler's ability to produce efficiently from the field and lock down the opposing team's best forward makes him one of the most important players on the Clippers in the playoffs.
MWP will miss the first six games of the playoffs because he was given a seven game suspension. He will miss the season finale as well.
However, if MWP is able to continue this level of production, even though a slight dip in numbers is expected, the Lakers may just win their third championship in four years. Like Butler, his presence on the defensive end is key because of the talent at the small forward position.
If MWP stays confident when Kobe comes back, the Lakers will be just fine. You know Andrew Bynum, Kobe and Pau Gasol will be ready for the playoffs, but if the Lakers want to get deep in the playoffs and bring another title back to L.A., they have to get consistent play from MWP.
Expect for MWP to shake off the "washed up" title he has been receiving all season long, this is if the Lakers can get past the Nuggets in the first round.
For the first round, the true X-factor is going to be Pau Gasol now that MWP is not playing. If Gasol plays inspired and does not let his emotions get in the way, the Lakers may be unstoppable. The Lakers need to squeeze out as much as they can from the Spaniard and from MWP throughout the playoffs if they want to bring Kobe his sixth championship ring.
James Harden has finally made a big name for himself this season. The Sixth Man of the Year award has his name written all over it because of his consistent play off the bench.
Harden leads a Oklahoma City Thunder bench and causes mismatches for opposing teams' second units. Harden is a very important part of this team's success in the playoffs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have their way with opposing defenses, but when they have an off night, Harden needs to step up.
Harden has done a great job of doing just that all year. Harden is the new version of Manu Ginobili, and just like him, the team will not go very far if he is not producing off the bench.
If Harden continues to produce and nail key three-pointers down the stretch, the Thunder will be as unstoppable as they were in the regular season.
He may have a tough time being effective in the first couple of matches in the playoffs because of the concussion he suffered from Metta World Peace's cheap shot to the back of his head. Odds are that Harden will come back and play inspired, and that's exactly what the Thunder want and that's exactly what the rest of the NBA does not want.
When is Manu Ginobili not the X-factor for the San Antonio Spurs?
Like years before, Ginobili is very important for any playoff push the Spurs want to make. Last season, Ginobili hyperextended his elbow and it forced him to miss Game 1 of the series against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs lost that game without Ginobili.
Ginobili played hurt throughout the series and it seemed like he was never really able to get into a groove. Earlier this season, Ginobili got hurt again by straining his oblique. He has been healthy since, but if the Spurs want to get deep in the playoffs, he must stay healthy throughout the playoffs.
The Spurs depend on Ginobili more than anyone thinks, and without a healthy Ginobili, this team has no chance of winning anything.