NBA Playoffs 2013: X-Factors for Each Team to Reach Finals
Now that the "final four" of the 2013 NBA playoffs is set, stakes will be higher for the contending teams to execute on their respective X-factors.
Whether it's a certain bench player or a certain aspect of the game, no team—not even the almighty Miami Heat—is exempt from having a key portion of the game that will make or break their chances of reaching the NBA Finals.
We're sure to see two high-powered matchups, as the Heat and Indiana Pacers face off for the Eastern Conference title. The Memphis Grizzlies will make their first Finals appearance against the San Antonio Spurs in the West.
Let's take a look at each team and what they must execute if they want to reach the Finals.
Western Conference Finals
Memphis Grizzlies: Frequency of Post Shots
In just about every matchup they can play, the Memphis Grizzlies are fortunate enough to boast a commanding advantage down low with the burly combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Gasol is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but he put his offensive skills on display in putting away the Oklahoma City Thunder last round. He's becoming increasingly reliable from 18 feet—punishing teams with a swift jumper.
Z-Bo is no slouch, either. He can punish opponents if they put an inferior player on him at any time, and always steps up his game incredibly well in the playoffs.
It's the matchup the Spurs boast that makes it so important, though. Tim Duncan is reliable and will get his points, but Thiago Splitter is not the answer for either of these Grizzlies stars.
With Mike Conley playing so well in the backcourt and Tony Allen performing out of his mind, Memphis must be wary to not let the game become fast-paced and dominated by the guards. Those two will have huge impacts, but they have to remember where their biggest strength is.
The Grizz must capitalize on this huge advantage to cancel out the impact Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are bound to have if they want to secure their spot in the NBA Finals.
San Antonio Spurs: Wing Players Must Excel and Stay Foul-Free
While Parker, Ginobili and Duncan are still the main core of San Antonio, it's the excellent play they've received from players like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green that helped them slip past the pesky Golden State Warriors.
That must become a focal point yet again, as it may be the only aspect that the Spurs have the advantage in. And it won't be a big advantage, as Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter are all performing incredibly.
When Leonard is able to play his 35-40 minutes, he often makes a big impact on the stat sheet and with his shooting range. But when he gets into foul trouble, it's a different story and it takes him out of his game completely.
Green, on the other hand, had perhaps the most under-appreciated performance of these playoffs in the Warriors series. He averaged 12 points per game while hitting the boards for a team that struggles rebounding at times.
If Green and Leonard can shift from players to playmakers in this series, the Grizz will have no chance.
Indiana Pacers: Cover the Three-Point Line
The Pacers play such a unique game and have so many even contributors that it's hard not only to find an X-factor, but to even find an Achilles heel altogether. In that case, we must look at their opponent.
It's almost impossible to stop the Miami Heat, but the best way to do so is to take away the three-point shot.
However, that's much easier said than done—especially against the Heat. You can't focus on just one or two players. You have to be wary of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and sometimes even Chris Bosh.
You get the point.
If the Pacers want to stifle the three-point line, it will take a few different things. First, they must properly decide when to implement man defense based on the Heat's offense. Also, they'll have to refuse the double-team on LeBron most of the time in order to cover the sharp-shooter that he always kicks it out to.
Just the presence of James and Wade makes it incredibly difficult to defend the long ball while preventing their impact. But if Indiana wants to pull a huge upset in this series, they'll have to figure it out.
Miami Heat: Keep the Balance
Ironically enough, the Miami Heat struggle late in games when they rely on their superstar players.
This isn't about LeBron's late-game struggles (which have been exaggerated) as much as it is about the way Miami usually executes their offense.
It's incredibly rare to ever see anyone play selfishly, and that all starts with their superstars—who play as unselfish as they come. Their best attribute is the ability to handle double-teams and turn it into an open shot on almost every possession.
The Heat are at their best when they're working their system and passing until they find the open shot. While they don't always fall and they may lose a game or two due to cold shooting, they have more than enough talent to dominate this series with open shots.
As much as LeBron James fans would love to see him take over this series to the tune of 40 or 50 points—and he surely could—he gives his team a better chance to win when he's a pass-first player.
The Heat are fortunate enough to have the game's best player, but they also have one of the game's best passers. And he must learn how to balance that act appropriately and spread the rock around if he wants a second ring in 2013.
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