The NBA playoffs kicked off for another year on Saturday, with four thrilling matchups taking place, as the best teams in the league battle it out for postseason supremacy and bragging rights.
The same will occur on Sunday when the West's top seeds and the East's top team take the court, with their star players likely to be looked to in order to achieve first-round success—the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tony Parker and so on.
However, we know these players are going to have strong playoffs seasons, for we've seen them do it time and time before. What we don't know is which players are going to be the X-factors in the playoffs this year, and which players are potentially capable of changing a series as a result.
Read on to see some of the league's biggest underrated stars who will be huge X-factors in the first-round of the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
With the loss of Rajon Rondo and no Ray Allen anymore, the Celtics have a very interesting challenge on their hands if they're going to take down the New York Knicks in their opening-round series.
Carmelo Anthony has been playing lights-out basketball of late for the Knicks, but faces arguably Boston's biggest offensive threat in Paul Pierce—something that Doc Rivers may look to avoid by moving Pierce to shooting guard and playing Green on Anthony, like he did in Game 1.
The league's leading scorer might have finished with 36 points and the Knicks might have won, but the Green-Pierce swap wasn't at all a bad move by the Celtics.
Green was able to show down Anthony at several points and Pierce was able to use his size and wisdom to dominate Iman Shumpert—both of which could have let to a Boston victory if the likes of Jason Terry hadn't shot so poorly off the bench.
If Green can shut down Anthony, he'll be a huge X-factor in the playoffs this year, for he'll allow Pierce to chalk up some big totals at the other end of the court.
That, in the end, could well lead Boston to a surprise first-round victory.
Omer Asik, Houston Rockets
The odds of the No. 8 seed Houston Rockets off knocking out the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder might not seem that great, but the reality is that this isn't a terrible matchup for the Rockets at all.
Jeremy Lin and James Harden are capable of putting up some big numbers on offense. With their quick-tempo transition basketball, Houston could well challenge the West's No. 1 seed here—potentially even snaring a game or two off it in the process.
Part of that rests on the performances of Omer Asik, who could have a profound impact for the Rockets on the defensive end. He has the size and physicality to dominate the Thunder's big men and will no doubt chalk up plenty of defensive boards and blocks in this one—equipping the Rockets offense to move at a potentially unstoppable pace.
Asik will need to play plenty of minutes, and he'll need to not get caught playing the pick-and-roll on the perimeter. But if he can do both of those things, Houston could well establish some defensive dominance in this one and allow its offense to try and win it the game.
That seems to be their best plan of attack.
Jason Kidd, New York Knicks
He might be the leading scorer during the year, but at some point, Carmelo Anthony is going to have an off-night in the playoffs. He may well even have three or four in the first round alone.
Should that happen—especially if Boston still has Pierce matching up against Shumpert—the Knicks will desperately need some offensive help to come from outside the paint other than Anthony, which could well bring Jason Kidd into the equation.
Kidd has shown this year that he can be both incredibly potent from deep (50.9 percent from three-point range in November) and incredibly poor (15.6 percent from three-point range in February). He is the exact definition of an X-factor because he can either make it or break for New York depending on his performances and depending on what type of attempts he throws up against the C's.
J.R. Smith is an elite scorer off the bench, but he plays so many minutes that it's hard to see him as a legitimate X-factor. That responsibility and potential impact will fall on the shoulders of Kidd, whose wisdom and experience in the postseason could be invaluable down the stretch—especially if Boston stretches the series to a sixth or even a seventh game.
Kidd could be the man to crush Boston hearts this postseason, regardless of what Carmelo Anthony might be doing.
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