Rajon Rondo and Each NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Team's X-Factor
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The NBA Playoffs are less than a week away and Rajon Rondo and seven other players now become x-factors for their team’s playoffs success.
With all but one playoff spot secured in the Eastern Conference, it is time to look at who can be the x-factor in determining each team’s success.
The playoffs can be a time when relatively unknown players become household names and it can also be a time when starters choke.
From superstars to bench players, each team has a player that will determine their fate and I have broken it down here:
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
With Kevin Garnett and the Big Three aging, this is Rajon Rondo's team now.
Rajon Rondo has been the driving force behind the Boston Celtics this season.
With aging veterans Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, Rondo has taken control of the team down the stretch, putting the Celtics in the conversation with the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat for Eastern Conference contenders.
Rondo is averaging a career high 11.6 assists per game and has 10 or more assists in 23 straight games. Doc Rivers has sat Rondo the past two games and I wouldn’t be surprised if he only plays in one of the two games remaining in their schedule.
Rondo needs his rest as his success will be the driving force behind the Celtics success this year more than ever. While Kevin Garnett has seemingly turned back the clock since he became the starting center in February, Rondo is the real reason for the Celtics turnaround.
Come playoff time, Rondo needs to push the pace and drive to the hole to open up opportunities for his teammates and himself. If Rondo regresses, the aging Celtics could struggle to move past the first round.
Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
If Derrick Rose is healty the Bulls have a chance to win a title.
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Derrick Rose has regressed slightly from his MVP season last year and if he doesn’t turn it on in the playoffs, the Bulls don’t have a chance at contending in the Eastern Conference.
Rose has battled through injuries and returned to the lineup despite looking like a shell of himself. Backups C.J. Watson and John Lucas have stepped up in his absence to hold onto the number one seed, but the Bulls don’t have enough scoring to sustain a long run in the playoffs and certainly not enough to win a series against the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics.
Derrick Rose needs to find a way to fight through the pain and transform into the MVP caliber player that he is. There is no need for the Bulls to play Rose in their final two games and the extra rest should be just what Rose needs to get back on track.
If Rose is 100%, the Bulls have a chance at winning a title this year.
Chris Bosh, PF, Miami Heat
Chris Bosh needs to prove he is worthy of a max-contract.
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The Miami Heat know what LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can do in the playoffs, but Chris Bosh is still a question mark.
Bosh is averaging less than five free-throw attempts per game, the lowest since his rookie season. If the Heat want to silence their critics, Bosh needs to be aggressive on the offensive end.
There is no reason why Bosh should average less than 20 ppg during the playoffs. Other than maybe Kevin Garnett, Bosh won’t face a power forward that is capable of stopping him.
Bosh has the offensive ability, but mentally he needs to realize that Lebron and Wade can’t do it alone and that he needs to take control at times.
Not only does Bosh need to improve offensively, but he needs to step it up on the defensive end as well.
Right now the Heat are set to play the New York Knicks in the first round and Bosh needs to shutdown Amare Stoudemire. If Bosh can build momentum in the first round and gain confidence, the Heat will have a chance to win it all.
Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers
Roy Hibbert has a chance to play for a big contract in the playoffs.
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Slowly but surely Roy Hibbert has developed into one of the best young centers in the NBA.While he still has a ways to go before he can be called elite, he is one of the reasons why the underrated Indiana Pacers have a chance at causing an upset or two in the playoffs.
Hibbert, a restricted free-agent at the end of the year, will have a chance at a huge payday, but before that he can be the deciding factor for how far the Pacers go in the playoffs. Hibbert isn’t consistent enough on the offensive end to be a major factor, but he has the ability to score as he has put up 20 or more points six times this year.
The Pacers are a balanced team that lacks a true superstar, but that is what makes them so scary in the playoffs.
Hibbert doesn’t need to carry the team, but if he can continue to clogs the lanes on defense and have a few breakout games on offense, the Pacers have a shot at advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague is Atlanta's x-factor in the playoffs.
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Jeff Teague and the Atlanta Hawks don’t have a chance at contending for a title, but they can upset someone in the first round. If Teague can bring his A-game, consistently, then the Hawks will have three scoring options in Teague, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.
Teague has taken a major step in his third season. Most of this has come due to regular playing time and becoming the Hawks starting point guard. He has more than doubled his scoring average and assists per game bringing them up to 12.4and 4.9, respectively.
Teague’s biggest drawback is his inconsistency.
He has scored 20 or more points in 9 games during the regular season, but he has also scored five points or less 9 times. Since Teague doesn’t get a lot of assists, when he doesn’t score it really bogs down the Hawks offense.
The Hawks can win a first round series if Teague can put together three or four good games. If he doesn’t they will likely lose in the first round for the first time since the 07-08 season, when they lost to the eventual champion Boston Celtics.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Orlando Magic
Jameer Nelson needs to nbe the man in Orlando now that Dwight Howard is done for the year.
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With Dwight Howard done for the year, the Orlando Magic lost all their hopes of winning a title. However, Jameer Nelson has the ability to score and has shown he can step it up in the playoffs.
In the 09-10 season, Nelson averaged a career-high 19 ppg in the playoffs.
If the Magic want to win their first round series, Nelson will need to take control of the team and be the deadly 3-point shooter that he can be. This wouldn’t be a surprise for Nelson fans as he along with Delonte West carried the Saint Joseph’s basketball team to a 27-0 start and a run to the Elite Eight.
Nelson will not only need to score for the Magic to win, he will also need to be more of a playmaker as well.
Nelson along with J.J. Redick and Jason Richardson could cause problems for their opponent by spreading the floor and being deadly three-point shooters.
Amare Stoudemire, PF, New York Knicks
Amare Stoudemire's health is the Knick's biggest question mark entering the playoffs.
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Amare Stoudemire returned from injury last Friday and is the key to the Knicks success in the playoffs.
The biggest question mark surrounding Stoudemire and the Knicks is whether or not he can stay healthy throughout the playoffs.
As important as that is, the Knicks need to win a series before they should concern themselves with Stoudemire being able to handle the long grind team’s go through in the playoffs.
The Knicks may be the biggest disappointment in the NBA and their lack of success cost Mike D’Antoni his job. Stoudemire is the key to the Knicks success in the playoffs.
If he can stay healthy and produce the Knicks could upset their first round opponent and that may just be what it takes to bring this team together and realize they should be better than the results have shown.
Stoudemire needs to score in order to take the heat off of Carmelo Anthony and he also needs to allow Anthony to be the offensive player that he wants. If Stoudemire can be unselfish and play team basketball, the Knicks could be a factor in the playoffs.
Andre Iguodala, SF, Philadelphia 76ers
Andre Igoudala needs to revert to the scorer he was in the past.
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The Philadelphia 76ers started to come together at the beginning of the year and a lot of that has to do with the unselfish play of Andre Iguodala.
However, they have struggled down the stretch and if they want to have any success in the playoffs, Iguodala needs to take control and become more of a scorer.
Igoudala has the skills, but has deferred to teammates the past two seasons. Iguodala has never developed into a bonafide star, but he has averaged more than 18 ppg in three straight seasons and still has the ability to play shutdown defense.
The 76ers will succeed if Iguodala can create more and take more shots.
Iguodala can take pressure off the other players by playing more of a point forward role and have the offense run through him. They may have a daunting task with the Chicago Bulls lined up as their first round opponent, but with an injured Derrick Rose, Iguodala could lead the 76ers in a playoff upset.