In the world of mathematics, an "x-factor" is an unknown quantity which only becomes known after following a prescribed process.
This concept of an unknown but vital quality also extends into other worlds, such as business and entertainment. Interviewers and judges often speak of an x-factor as a certain undefinable quality which may promote one candidate over another in the eyes of his or her critics or examiners.
The x-factor for an actor or actress might be a strong sexual appeal or a sense of mystery, for instance.
When it comes to playoff basketball in the NBA, an x-factor is a player who serves as a catlyst, equipped with skills and talent that directly result in team success.
We saw several players step up to get their teams out of the first round.
Now, who is going to rise even further in the second round matchups and be this year's ultimate x-factor?
This is exactly why the Houston Rockets selected Yao Ming with the first selction in the 2002 NBA Draft.
An upending of the Western Conference's top seed would likely validate the selection, and there is not a player in the league in more need of such justification.
Many have already punched the Lake Show's ticket into the NBA Finals, but the Rockets just might be the West's best chance to overtake L.A.
Andrew Bynum, who will be going mano e mano with the 7-foot-6 Yao, says he is ready for the challenge.
Bynum told the Press Enterprise:
It makes me very hungry,” Bynum said. “I can’t wait to go out there against a challenging player like Yao Ming. I know I’m going to play better just because it’s a big guy I’m going to go up against.”
That’s a lot of confidence for a dude who averaged five points and three boards in the previous series (in which, by the way, he didn’t face anyone even remotely as imposing or good as Yao, and could barely get off the bench some games.)
Careful what you wish for, Mr. Bynum.
Yao's time is now.
This time last year, Josh Howard seemed lost—a guy who went on local radio to chat about how much he enjoys "smoking weed in the off-season sometimes," then followed a playoff loss by going to a party in his honor that his coach had told him to skip.
The time last month, he couldn’t be counted on for another reason: He missed 11 straight games for the second time this season because of a bum ankle that probably needs off-season surgery.
Howard might be the biggest reason the Dallas Mavericks are getting ready to play the Denver Nuggets in a second-round playoff series.
A jack-of-all-trades skill set (inside and outside, leading the break or breaking up the opponent's) that allows other players to focus more on what they do best, no Mav’s individual production directly results in team success more than Howard's.
Even though Dirk Nowitzki outscored Howard by a basket during the first round, anyone around the Mavs will say Howard was the series MVP, and their x-factor.
Nowitzki told the Dallas Morning News, “He’s always kind of been our x-factor.”
It’s impossible to accurately project what the Hawks’ dismembering of the Miami Heat in Game 7 means for the rest of this postseason.
But this much is certain: If Smith continues to run and attack and defend like he did in this series, Cleveland, has something to worry about in the next one.
Coming off a hectic seven-game series, the Cavaliers await—fresh and with a superstar eager to earn some hardware.
Much like Detroit's dependence on Tayshaun Prince to both score and defend Video Game James, the Hawks will rely on J-Smoove in similar fashion.
While Smith has earned every last bit of criticism thrown his direction, the Native Atlantan is just as responsible for one of the NBA's most remarkable turnarounds as anyone.
With the health of Marvin Williams and Al Horford in jeopardy, only one question remains:
Is Josh Smith up for the challenge?
Rafer Alston wouldn't be with the Magic if it wasn't for All- Star guard Jameer Nelson going down with a shoulder injury.
Nelson was injured back in February, forcing the Magic to acquire Alston from Houston in a three- team trade. The former playground legend is a poor man's Rajon Rondo, a streaky jump-shooter that uses his quickness to create havoc.
Orlando, however, has won both meetings against Boston since acquiring Alston, who averaged 15.2 points in the first round against Philadelphia.
He now faces the task of limiting the emerging Rando in a playoff series.
Rondo nearly averaged a triple-double against the Bulls, and that's Oscar Robertson territory, folks.
The lightning-quick Rondo scored 19.4 points per game, dished out 11.6 assists and grabbed 9.3 rebounds per game in the seven-game marathon against Chicago.
During the regular season, Rondo led the Celtics in assists (8.2) and steals (1.9), but scored just 11.9 points and grabbed 5.2 rebounds per contest, so he's clearly elevated his game.
With the health of Courntey Lee being a factor, the Magic aren't convinced J.J. Reddick can shoulder the load, serving as a defensive liability.
In Game 6 against Philadelphia, Alston ate up the slower Andre Miller because the jumper was falling, but Miller tortured Alston earlier in the series on the block.
Alston couldn't go up against two more contrasting styles of play with Miller and Rondo.
Only a seven-game series will prove if Alston can make the adjustment.