With one game finished in each NBA second-round series, there are some emerging X-factors for each matchup.
The top seeds are both up in the West, while the lower seeds are ahead in the East. Every series seems likely to go six games, and the following factors will impact who comes out on top.
The Bulls’ Matchups on LeBron James
For most of Monday night, Jimmy Butler played defense on LeBron and LeBron guarded Joakim Noah. Those matchups turned out well enough for the Bulls to squeak out a Game 1 win.
In the first half, Butler limited James to a mere two points. Butler grabbed 12 defensive rebounds over the course of the game. Noah pulled down 11 total rebounds, with five on the offensive end.
Noah’s size advantage on offense was indispensable in the Bulls’ victory, but Butler’s play was even more important. Butler gave James no space and angled himself to keep James out of the lane.
Even more importantly, the second-year pro never looked overwhelmed against the four-time MVP. If Butler and Noah continue to outwork LeBron, the Bulls have a serious chance to win this series.
The Knicks’ Ball Movement
With Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith as the Knicks’ key scorers, their offense has a tendency to stagnate. Both players look for their own shots, and Anthony especially has a propensity for going iso far too often.
Anthony put up 27 points and 11 rebounds in a Game 1 loss to the Pacers, but he had only one assist.
One assist? Wow.
When Anthony and Smith are shooting well, the Knicks are almost unstoppable (as we saw in the regular season). When they’re not, New York is imminently beatable.
Anthony and Smith shot 32.6 percent in the first game against Indiana. If they have a repeat performance of mediocrity, it is imperative that the Knicks move the ball around and run their offense. Otherwise, the Pacers will continue to beat them.
The next-best shooter on Golden State’s team fouled out after 32 minutes of play against the Spurs.
The announcers stated how fortunate it was that he wouldn’t be needed the rest of the game. Wrong.
The Spurs made a ridiculous comeback and took the first game of the series from the Warriors.
Thompson needs to be smarter on defense—the blocking foul he committed ended up having far-reaching repercussions on the game. Golden State needs Thompson in the game and scoring.
Though he dropped 19 points in Game 1, Thompson shot 0-of-4 from three-point range. Thompson’s production will be important moving forward. He needs to shoot better from long range and play smart defense against a savvy, veteran ball club.
Reggie Jackson will also be an important X-factor in this series, but rebounding is even more vital for Oklahoma City.
The Grizzlies have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside, both of whom registered a double-double on Sunday. Kendrick Perkins has his hands full.
Competing with the Grizzlies’ size will be key if the Thunder want to put this series away quickly. A two-point win in Game 1 was extremely disconcerting.
Kevin Durant’s 15 rebounds were huge in the first game. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison need to be tougher inside. If Oklahoma City loses the rebounding battle badly, stopping the twin towers of Gasol and Randolph becomes a monumental task.
If Gasol and Randolph dominate the post, the Thunder may lose the series.
*All statistics provided by ESPN.com.