The 8 X-Factor Players Of The 2014 NBA Playoffs: East Edition

kyle lowry shaun livingston

It’s the most wonderful time of the year with the NBA Post Season officially getting underway this upcoming Saturday. The Bobcats will end their franchise with a trip to the post season while the Knicks failed to recover from their slow start, even in one of the worst years for the Eastern Conference. Today, the TSFJ team takes a look at the most important player on every Eastern Conference team — not the best player.

8. Atlanta Hawks: Kyle Korver

There are few players in the NBA who garner as much respect as Kyle Korver when he steps onto the hardwood. Now you might say, “Ed, are you smoking that ooohwee? This is Kyle Korver we’re talking about!” I understand that, but watch when Korver is running off of screens, or sitting there in the corner, or just dribbling the ball 30-feet away from the rim. The man’s ability make threes from anywhere in Fulton or DeKalb county commands the ultimate respect. That’s what happens when around 60% of all your shots are threes and you make 47% of them.

Usually, I would say that the Indiana Pacers should be fine in thwarting Korver’s prolific three-point shooting prowess, but the way they’ve played over the last two months I have my doubts. Will Atlanta win the series? Hell no. But Indiana will still drop a game (or two) and I imagine Korver will have plenty to do with it. ETSF

7. Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Henderson

Gerald Henderson might be one of the 10 best athletes in the NBA. One of the 10 best perimeter defenders. And one of the top 10 players in the NBA no one gives a damn about, but he’s definitely going to be the most important figure for the Bobcats should they see any success in this post season.

The idea of the Bobcats going to the postseason was laughable heading into the 2013-14 season, but the Eastern Conference accommodated one of the toughest and hardest working teams in the NBA and allowed for a playoff berth in the franchise’s last season as the Bobcats.

Now, heading into the post season, it seems laughable that the Bobcats can even win a single game considering that LeBron averaged 37 a game against the ‘Cats, but if Henderson is able to slow down Wade and throw down a few jarring dunks, MAYBE the ‘Cats can steal a game at home and bring in a new era of Hornets basketball. I’m So Hideous

6. Brooklyn Nets: Shaun Livingston 

While listening to the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons and Haralabob Voulgaris, I heard “Bob” make statement that peaked my interest. Did you know that Shaun Livingston is #1 in the NBA in points per post-up? Yes, Shaun Livingston. Yes, the guy who has over 238 knee surgeries and now weighs 187 pounds (maybe) is kinda sorta the king of the post game in the league. What’s fascinating about Brooklyn is that although they have their issues, they most certainly know who they are and what they’re capable of doing. This is amplified now with the emergence of Livingston, now 28 years old and now the de facto starting point guard while Deron Williams figures out his life as a guard in the NBA. (I think he should convert into a full-time two guard)

If the Nets figure out a way to get past the Toronto Raptors in round one, we could get a magical slugfest in round two versus the Miami Heat. Miami’s string defense (which basically means all five guys on the floor fly around like maniacs to cause relentless pressure on the ball) can be negated with effective one-on-one play, and Livingston’s ability to defer and score will make things tough for Miami in a series. — ETSF

5. Washington Wizards: Marcin Gortat

#GortatShake

Besides Nick Young and J.R. Smith, no other player has defined the perfectly absurd this season than Marcin Gortat. First failing and eventually succeeding with the Dream Gortat Shake, wanting some NHL-style goonery (yep, I made that up), declaring himself a temporary memberof the Boston Celtics for five seconds. Gortat almost made up for missing JaVale McGee in our daily what-the-*bleep* highlights that make the NBA great.

Yet, he wasn’t brought to the nation’s capital from Phoenix at the start of the season for mere entertainment. Gortat was brought to Washington to bolster the frontcourt against division foes in Miami and Charlotte while also battling the bigs in Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn throughout the season. His game steadily improved with each passing month, culminating in averages of 13.2 points per game along with 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Playing on the low block, he opens up the floor so that John Wall and Bradley Beal can operate and Trevor Ariza can hit a spot-up corner three.

Drawing up the Bulls means plenty of eyes will be affixed to Gortat as he’ll go against Joakim Noah, whose spectacular season kept Chicago afloat once again without Derrick Rose and a competent offense. On occasions that he’ll square up with Carlos Boozer, we have the chance to see two of the most awkward big man offenses in the league. Perhaps in his own hopes of some thuggery, he might get into some fisticuffs with either Noah or Boozer, but that could be a huge detriment to a Wizards team that is inexperienced in playoff basketball.

We’re not talking about a team or a player that harkens back to the late 1960s days of the Baltimore Bullets, but Gortat and these Wizards should at least be entertaining for the five games they’re predicted to play since Chicago should be overwhelming favorites.

Let’s pray to the basketball gods that Marcin Gortat tries a Michael Jordan fadeaway at the United Center. A Sports Scribe

4. Chicago Bulls: Taj Gibson

For the Chicago Bulls, it has been a year of adjusting on the fly. First there was the momentary return of Derrick Rose, then the decision to trade off All-Star forward Luol Deng. For a while it was a team that had to push to reshape not only its image, but its approach of how to attack as a team. While Joakim Noah has become the engine of the team in a fashion that mirrors his impact on the Florida Gators year as ago, becoming a jack-of-all-trades, they’ll need more to keep up pace with the upstart Washington Wizards.

The strength of the Bulls revitalization has been playing in concert with each, but if one member of the band has a chance to step out make a series changing difference for as long as they run, its Taj Gibson. He has shown in the past that he has the ability to make the type of momentum setting and altering play when needed, but in over the past two seasons, he has become a consistent option around the rim to the point where he is one of the premier sixth men in the game. In a way, he has come to symbolize what has kept Chicago at the heart of the Eastern Conference race—an all-in-effort that transcends who starts or finishes the game, but who makes the difference between it.

Gibson presents a unique advantage (especially in the first round) whereas there is not an absolute answer for him on the Wizards and he has the ability to seamlessly blend in with multiple lineups that Tom Thibadeaux will likely need to deploy to match up with the more guard-heavy Wiz. However, that is the strength of the Bulls attack: winning the matchup. And getting the ball to Gibson more (who averaged 9 points on eight attempts in three match-ups vs Washington) is the perfect play to pull ahead for a least a round before they face the team that most closely embodies their everyman approach: the Indiana Pacers. — Cheap Seat Fan

3. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry 

All Hail The Kings of the North! In what has been a rather surprising season for the Toronto Raptors, the franchise is having one of its best seasons ever heading into the playoffs this weekend. While their success can be attributed to a number of reasons, the most significant comes from the re-emergence of Kyle Lowry. The veteran journeyman has stepped up his game tremendously, and will be a major factor if the Raptors hope to have any sort of playoff success.

Despite being snubbed from the All Star game (seriously, you can’t justify his exclusion) Lowry has still managed to have a career best year. He’s been a highly effective scorer and distributor, and along with Demar DeRozan makes up arguably the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference. Lowry has gone from solid playmaker to the motor keeping this Toronto offense running. If Lowry can transfer his progression into the post-season, then there will be so many things that Toronto just won’t have to worry about. Locking the Atlantic division up was simply the start, but Toronto could very well cause some damage in a very shaky conference. The Raptors franchise hasn’t had much to celebrate in recent history, but after winning the division and locking in the 3rd seed, Lowry will be doing everything in his power to prolong this moment. — Easy Stylez

Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem

2. Miami Heat: Udonis Birdman

Sounds like one of those superheroes from one of Marvel’s 375,000 upcoming movies, huh?

I’m not even sure naming two players is within the rules, but let’s try it anyway. Initially, Toney Douglas was going to be named here. During the absence of Dwyane Wade, Douglas made his mark for Miami with defense, an obsessive knack for rebounding and timely three-point shooting. Then, the thought process shifted to “who the hell replaces Mike Miller?” Double M’s role in Miami in the regular season was pedestrian. Yet, during the Big Three era, Miller’s sniper-like shooting and rebounding in the postseason became the stuff of South Beach legend.

Then, it hit me. Perhaps someone like Michael Beasley steps up when Miami inevitably finds themselves on the ropes (because this will happen, book it). The two most important players outside of the superstar trio can be mutated into one. Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Udonis Haslem will be called upon to do heavy lifting in an area where Miami has always shown vulnerability – in the post. Not traditional back-to-the-basket players a la teammate Greg Oden (whose playoff role is still foggy), Udonis Birdman will be relied upon to crash boards and do the dirty work against the likes of Al Jefferson, Joakim Noah or David West/Roy Hibbert.

And when an opposing team undoubtedly tackles LeBron or pushes Mario Chalmers, chances are Udonis Birdman will be the first to bust back. — Tins

1. Indiana Pacers: George Hill 

The trade deadline came and went for the Indiana Pacers and they failed to bring in another point guard. While it may not be considered a failure for the organization, this team is really going to go as far as George Hill is able to take them. Many wondered if the Pacers would make a move to upgrade the position — or at the very least — upgrade the back up position to make things a little easier on those who are supposed to benefit from having a point guard on the floor.

Instead, the Pacers stood pat at the point and have seen some aggressively meh numbers from Hill. Nine points and 3.5 assists a night since the break while only committing a turnover per game isn’t exactly terrible, but numbers that are absolutely going to have to improve in the post season at the league’s most competitive position from top to bottom.

More important, however, is the other end of the floor. Hill hasn’t been a great on-ball defender, especially since the All-Star break which has seen the entire team regress on that end a bit. However, there isn’t a starter on the Pacers who has posted a worse defensive rating (108, yuck) than Hill — and if you can’t stop the opposing team’s point guard, you’re not stopping the opposing team.

Paul George is going to have his great nights. Roy Hibbert is going to protect the paint. David West is going to be a goon. Lance Stephenson is going to be a wild card from night-to-night. What the Pacers get from Hill is going to determine what Pacers fans get from the Pacers. This team’s floor and ceiling are the NBA’s tectonic plates and have slowly moved apart over the last two months. A floor that was, seemingly, once the Eastern Conference Finals has floated down to a second round defeat. That ceiling, however, remains NBA champions, and they’ll only reach it if George Hill can take them there. — I’m So Hideous

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