NBA playoffs 2017: Three X-Factors for any first-round series

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A.J. Neuharth-Keusch and Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports take a demeanour during a 4 postseason matchups in a East.
USA TODAY Sports

At prolonged last, the NBA’s unchanging deteriorate in a books.

With a initial turn of the playoffs on a setting and the movement set to tip off on Saturday (3 p.m. ET on ABC), USA TODAY Sports looks during 3 X-Factors for any series.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls

The Bulls competence not be a standard No. 8 team, nonetheless they’ve also been intensely unsuitable this season. That can’t be pronounced for the Celtics, who urge year after year underneath Brad Stevens.

Jimmy Butler tale – Rumors have swirled given final year’s breeze that a Celtics were eyeing a Bulls’ two-way star, and nonetheless zero materialized, there was estimable gibberish around this year’s trade deadline, too. The Bulls seem to be held in limbo, determining between traffic Butler and embracing a reconstruct or building around a intensity authorization cornerstone. The Celtics, with all those breeze assets, will get an adult tighten demeanour during a three-time All-Star, who’ll be doing his best to jolt a No. 1 seed.

“We’ve got to go out there and chuck a initial punch,” Butler told reporters. “Game 1, on a highway during that, nonetheless we consider we’re means of it. we don’t consider a idea here is usually to make a playoffs. We wish to win.”

Stopping IT – In reality, he’s usually 5-foot-9, nonetheless Isaiah Thomas packs a punch and is a unquestioned descent personality of a Celtics. Credit manager Brad Stevens for desiring in Thomas and harnessing his scoring ability notwithstanding his defensive shortcomings. And as for that whole purchase gene? Thomas is second in a NBA to usually Russell Westbrook with 9.8 ppg in a fourth quarter. Butler, though, ranks 15th in a NBA in fourth entertain scoring during 6.2.

The challenging partial about confronting a Celtics is that they aren’t a one-man band. They have a second-best support ratio in a league, and a slew of double-digit scorers in Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.

Old dog, new dog – Dwyane Wade substantially never illusory he’d have to win a diversion on a final day of a unchanging deteriorate to get into a playoffs when he motionless to pointer with a Bulls. But months later, that’s where we are. The Bulls had been hilly all season, from in-fighting, to injuries to midseason trades. But they’ve still got Wade (and not to discuss Rajon Rondo), who are both playoff-tested. It’s not tough to suppose those veterans buckling down and doing all they can to deliver a deteriorate that scarcely went awry.

As for a other side, Brad Stevens has nonetheless to win a playoff series, nonetheless a Celtics have softened their win sum each singular season.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers 

LeBron James and a Cavaliers enter a postseason with all kinds of concerns, nonetheless there’s also a probability that a Cavs have been coasting to save appetite for a playoffs. Can Paul George and a Pacers take advantage?

Desperation time for Pacers? – The unpalatable subplot swirling around a Pacers is possibly authorization post Paul George will leave in giveaway organisation in 2018. He’s pronounced his idea is to be on a rival team. The fact that a Pacers scampered into a playoffs by winning their final 5 games is a good start. The contingency of fluctuating that playoff run are significantly smaller given Indiana’s opponent. LeBron James is 11-0 in initial turn array in his career, and his teams haven’t mislaid a initial turn diversion given 2012.

Lance cause – Someone, somewhere was anticipating that when a Pacers brought behind Lance Stephenson recently, he’d get a probability to block adult opposite LeBron James again in a playoffs. Who can forget their soft, cuddly confront with Stephenson floating into James’ ear during a 2014 Eastern Conference Finals? Lance is back, and by all Indy accounts (George included), a Pacers are thrilled. We’re not observant he’s going to have a staggering impact, nonetheless when a Pacers done back-to-back discussion finals, his invulnerability was a poignant weapon.

Cavs’ struggles – Perhaps you’ve listened about Cleveland’s issues? Not all is good with a Cavs. Their invulnerability is in shambles, they’ve been battling injuries via a whole deteriorate – a latest being Tristan Thompson’s sprained right ride  – and they curiously staid for a No. 2 seed, vouchsafing a Boston Celtics slip into a auspicious schedule. One operative speculation for this is that a Cavs simply aren’t fearful of going on a highway and violence a Celtics in a intensity Game 7, and they prioritized rest over seeding. Whether that was eventually a right preference will simulate behind on manager Ty Lue, who by a way, has pronounced he has some new defensive schemes to betray in a playoffs. We’ll see.

(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks

The Raptors are finally healthy and have a identical organisation to a one that reached a discussion finals a year ago. Does that meant they can withstand a Greek Freak?

Lowry’s behind – At times final postseason, Kyle Lowry looked like a world-beater. He had dual 35-point efforts in a discussion finals opposite a Cleveland Cavs before descending in 6 games. At other times, like a opening turn array opposite a Pacers, he looked mislaid on a court. Who knows what to design from playoff Lowry? Since returning from a wrist damage with 4 games left in a unchanging season, Lowry has found his spots and averaged 17.3 points on scarcely 48% shooting. Pair that with a understated deteriorate DeMar DeRozan had (27.3 ppg, 5th in NBA), joined with resilient towers Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka, and a Raptors are an intensely tough matchup for a Bucks.

Locking adult The Freak – The secret’s out. The lengthy, go-go-gadget point-forward is no longer usually tender potential. Giannis Antetokounmpo became a initial actor in NBA story to finish in a tip 20 in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals. The Raptors, some-more than many teams, have some intensity during negligence him down between Ibaka and DeMarre Carroll, nonetheless he’s too high to get a palm in his face and building too many trust in his handles to stay nearby him.

Middle male –Two seasons ago, a Bucks gave a Bulls fits in what was their initial incursion into a playoffs during a Giannis era. Khris Middleton was afterwards an intriguing wing player, who had a decent array for a Bucks organisation that maxed out their potential. After blank a playoffs final year, Middleton is now an essential spoke for a Bucks, generally when a invulnerability collapses perplexing to stop Antetokounmpo. Since returning in early Feb from a ripped hamstring, Middleton has shot 43% from a three-point line and averaged roughly 15 points. Just suppose this team’s capabilities if Jabari Parker hadn’t gotten harm again. It should still be a rival array nonetheless.

(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks

The Wizards have been drifting underneath a radar, nonetheless their backcourt and fringe sharpened make them a critical hazard in a East. Will a Hawks’ abyss be means to short-circuit Washington’s run?

Wizards rolling – Since Jan 11, a Wizards are 30-14. That’s a fourth-best record in a NBA. Certainly John Wall’s stellar play gets poignant credit, nonetheless he’s been glorious via a year. How about Bradley Beal, who got improved as a shooter as a deteriorate wore on. In Feb and March, Beal averaged 25 points per diversion on some-more than 50% shooting. That form of prolongation sandwiched himself between Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry, that isn’t accurately bad company. Credit Scott Brooks for unleashing Beal. Also credit him for bolstering Otto Porter Jr.’s Most Improved Player candidacy.

Howard factor- The Wizards aren’t a good resilient team, and that’s one of a Hawks’ apparent strengths with Dwight Howard (nearly 15 rebounds per diversion in 4 contests vs. a Wizards) and Paul Millsap scrubbing a glass. If they can win a resilient domain and transition quickly, a Hawks have a array of guys who like to jack three-pointers, even if they aren’t quite efficient. One male to keep an eye out for is Tim Hardaway Jr., who averaged about 18 points a final dual months of a season.

Brooks – As minute in a new USA TODAY feature, a Wizards’ first-year manager has his team’s trust. It’s clear in a viewpoint his players common on him. “He’ll tell we what he thinks. He’ll ask we what we consider he can do improved for you. That’s a player’s coach,” pronounced Markieff Morris. “He’s got a enchanting touch,” pronounced Beal.

The Hawks have been intensely streaky given a All-Star mangle and entered a postseason carrying won 4 of five. While that bodes good for Atlanta, there’s a clarity of palliate with Brooks and his squad, that competence make a disproportion in a array that could go possibly way.

Western Conference

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (8)

It’s no tip that a Warriors are a definite favorites in this series. Not usually do they exaggerate a NBA’s best record, No. 1 offense and No. 2 invulnerability (in terms of rating), nonetheless they’re a initial authorization in NBA story to win 67 games in 3 true seasons. The Blazers, who stole one diversion when they met a Warriors in a second turn of final year’s playoffs, have their work cut out for them.

The Bosnian Beast – Jusuf Nurkic — who was traded to Portland during a deadline and has thrived (15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds in 20 games) in his new role — suffered a leg damage in late Mar and is carefree to return, nonetheless his standing is still adult in a air. If he’s cleared, he adds another much-needed dimension to this backcourt-heavy Blazers squad, who is 14-6 with Nurkic in a lineup. What’s more, he’ll draw the courtesy of Defensive Player of a Year claimant Draymond Green, opening adult some-more descent opportunities.

Battle of a backcourts – One of a must-see matchups of a initial turn will be Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson vs. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Splash Brothers have a edge, as story shows, nonetheless Lillard — who plays with an extra-large chip on his shoulder — is means of going off during any moment, evidenced by his 59-point outburst final Saturday. As is reigning Most Improved Player of a Year McCollum, who averaged a career-high 23 points on 48% sharpened this season. If a Blazers’ twin can win the backcourt matchup, this series gets all a some-more interesting.

Hot streaks – This might be a one-vs.-eight matchup as distant as seeding is concerned, nonetheless a Warriors (17-5 given Mar 1) and Blazers (17-6) are two of a hottest teams in a NBA streamer into a postseason. If the Blazers can lift a movement into a playoffs, they could extend this array serve than we predicted. Don’t trust us? Take it from Lillard, who told USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, “It’s about personification right during a right time, personification good during a right time, and we trust that we can kick anybody.”

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

The Spurs are a second-best organisation in a NBA, nonetheless this first-round date with Memphis won’t be a cakewalk. As we saw the four times these teams met in a unchanging season, we’re in for some hard-nosed, defensive-minded basketball. The Grizzlies have a manpower to give Kawhi Leonard and Co. some trouble. But will they?

The $153-million male – Mike Conley, a All-Star who’s never been an All-Star, sealed a richest understanding in NBA story over a summer. He’s upped his diversion accordingly, averaging 20.5 points on 45.9% sharpened and 40.7% from 3 (2.5 creates per game) — all career highs. He’s a engine that creates this offense run, and when he’s personification during his best, he nears chosen status.

Playing a perimeter – The Spurs, who fire an NBA-best 39.1 % from three, are during their best when they’re swelling a floor, relocating a round and attack their shots. The second time they mislaid to a Grizzlies this season, they done usually 9 of their 28 three-point attempts. The initial time they lost? Four-for-19. As for Memphis, they finished a deteriorate with a franchise-best 767 three-pointers done (up from a prior high of 620), display that a Grizzlies’ Grit ‘n’ Grind has a small bit of grace.

The Grindfather – The Grizzlies announced Thursday that Tony Allen, a five-time All-Defensive selection, stretched his calf in his right leg and will be out indefinitely — a poignant setback, as he was slated to compare adult with Leonard. If he can’t lapse in time, that is looking like a genuine possibility, a Grizzlies’ prolonged shot becomes even longer, as Leonard should have a margin day opposite a likes of James Ennis, Vince Carter and Wayne Selden.

Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)

As distant as first-round matchups go, it doesn’t get many improved than this, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook — a NBA’s top-two MVP candidates — are set to go toe-to-toe during slightest 4 games in a row. But this array will come down to many some-more than dual superstars.

Andre Roberson – The Thunder are confronting an ascending battle, as they’re nowhere nearby as low or as gifted as this high-octane Houston squad. But they have some pieces, aside from Westbrook, who could make a poignant impact on a series. Roberson, one of a tip fringe defenders in a league, has shown he’s means of frustrating Harden in games past, and he needs to do usually that to give a Thunder a fighting chance. In 4 games opposite Oklahoma City this season, Harden was singular to 20.5 points on 34.3% sharpened from a margin and 22.6% from three.

Stache Bros. – Steven Adams and Enes Kanter helped lead a Thunder to an NBA-best 46.6 rebounds per diversion this season. The Thunder also led a NBA with 49.9 points in a paint and ranked fifth with 14.8 second-chance points. Add Taj Gibson to the mix, and this organisation boasts one of a NBA’s many challenging frontlines. They’ll have to be in tip form opposite Houston’s not-as-strong organisation of Clint Capela and Nene, who anchor a frontline that allows an NBA-worst 49 points in a paint per game.

Triple-double aristocrat – How can a NBA’s tip MVP claimant be deliberate an X-Factor? Consider this: The Thunder are 33-9 when Westbrook has a triple-double. Some of those wins? Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, L.A. Clippers, Memphis (twice), Milwaukee, San Antonio, Toronto, Utah (three times) and Washington (all playoff teams), to name a few. It’s no secret, nonetheless a Thunder go as Russ goes, and opposite these Rockets, Russ has to really go. As if he knows how to do otherwise.

Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

It’s do or die time for a Clippers, who are unfailing for some poignant offseason register changes if they don’t pull past a playoff hump — a daunting charge that starts with this defensive-minded, veteran-led Jazz group looking to win a playoff array for a initial time given 2010.

Health, health, health – Coming off a deteriorate riddled by damage where their elite starting lineup usually saw 13 games (11 wins) together, a Jazz — quite George Hill (49 games played), Rodney Hood (59 games played), Gordon Hayward (73 games played) and Derrick Favors (50 games played) — need to deflect off a damage bug to make this array as engaging as it’s means of being. The same goes for a Clippers, who suffered a first-round exit final deteriorate after both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin went down.

All about a mindset – With this expected being a final probability for L.A.’s core organisation to make it over a playoff hump, a Clippers mustn’t let a postseasons of a past confuse them from a charge during hand. As for a Jazz, with this being their initial postseason coming given 2012, they need to equivocate removing sucked in by a moment. Both are 51-win teams for a reason.

Hill’s resurgence – In a 49 games Hill played in a unchanging season, a Jazz went 33-16, including wins over Atlanta, Cleveland, Golden State, Houston, Indiana, a Clippers, Milwaukee (twice), San Antonio (twice) and Washington — all playoff teams. He had a best unchanging deteriorate of his career, posting 16.9-point, 4.2-assist averages on 47.7% sharpened from a margin and 40.3% sharpened from 3 (1.9 makes). He’s one of a many underrated two-way indicate guards in a league, nonetheless it usually so happens he’s tasked with going adult opposite one of a best two-way indicate guards in NBA history.


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