The List: Playoff X-factors

The Bulls need the Derrick Rose of old if they want to advance out of the Eastern Conference

There are certain players (and coaches) in the Association that are absolutely crucial to their team’s success. Some of those guys are obvious, like how important Stephen Curry is to the Warriors or how valuable James Harden is to the Rockets. You can expect greatness from them night in and night out.
Some, however, aren’t so apparent, or frankly, reliable. Those players are X-factors, and here are 10 most important players and coaches that can help (or hinder) their team’s playoff performance.
10) Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors
Williams dropped 29 points for the Raps off the bench in Miami this weekend, and his ability to go off at just about any point in the game could swing a playoff series in a moment. He could very well be the Kia Sixth Man of the Year, and though he’s a liability defensively, any lineup featuring him, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan is a nightmare for opposing defenses. If Williams lights it up in the playoffs, the Raptors probably will too.

9) DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks
Thabo Sefolosha being out for the season puts major pressure on Carroll, especially if the Hawks meet up with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals as many are predicting. Because, you know, some guy named LeBron plays for Cleveland, and Carroll is the only Hawks player remotely qualified to take on that defensive assignment. He’s going to have to play major minutes if the Hawks are going to win the East.

8) Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Does it even matter who the Celtics put on the court at this point? While he’s not going to win, Stevens is a viable Coach of the Year candidate. And if his run at Butler proved anything a few years back, it’s that he thrives in postseason play. The C’s likely aren’t going to beat the Cavaliers or the Hawks if they get in, but knowing Stevens, the Celtics will probably make things interesting. If nothing else, Boston should lead the playoffs in points off of plays run out of a timeout.

7) Clippers bench
The Clippers have a killer starting lineup. People point to Blake Griffin’s rebounding regression, DeAndre Jordan’s inability to make free throws and Chris Paul’s playoff failures, but the truth is, the first five isn’t the Clippers problem. Their net rating is 7.5, the highest of any starting five in the league, including the Warriors. The bench is another story, as any contribution from a reserve outside of Jamal Crawford is considered a bonus. If the Clippers are going to make any noise in the postseason, someone like Spencer Hawes, Austin Rivers or Hedo Turkoglu is going to need to play better than they have all season.

6) Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
Speaking of the Warriors, they’ll finally have the pleasure of having their rim protector in the payoffs. Bogut missed last year’s festivities against the Clippers, and Griffin feasted on an undersized front line. Steve Kerr’s coaching has obviously made a major impact in Golden State, and Draymond Green’s importance to this team cannot be overstated. But Bogut can neutralize just about any frontcourt player the Warriors will face, and he is going to be key if the Warriors make a championship run.

5) Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
After an underwhelming start to the season, Parker was magnificent in March, averaging more than 18 points per game on 55 percent shooting. Gregg Popovich has been limiting his minutes in April to prepare for the postseason, and although Kawhi Leonard has grabbed all the headlines lately, Parker is their offensive engine. He often gets overlooked when discussing the high caliber of point guards in the West, but come playoff time, he is often the reason the Spurs are so successful.

4) Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks
Even on a team featuring Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo and Chandler Parsons, it’s not crazy to suggest that Chandler is the most important player on the Mavericks. That’s because he’s essentially the only thing holding them together on the defensive end of the floor, and after losing Brandan Wright earlier this season, the Mavs truly have no replacement for him. Dallas is going to have to ride their starting center in the playoffs if they want any shot of pulling off an upset.

3) Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
The Rockets proved to be just fine without Howard in the lineup this season. But ‘fine’ doesn’t win championships, and if Howard plays like he did in last year’s playoffs against the Blazers, the Rockets have a shot at winning the West. Howard is only averaging around 22 minutes per game in April, and though he’s been productive in those minutes, it will be interesting to monitor how much Kevin McHale plays his center in this postseason.

2) Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Like the Rockets, the Cavaliers appear to function just fine without Love. In fact, he often sits out entire fourth quarters. But it’s hard to believe the Cavs can knock off the Warriors, Spurs or whomever comes out of the West without a productive Love. His versatile offensive game can turn the Cavs into a juggernaut that even the stingiest of defenses can’t stop. Though the Cavs have been rolling lately, Love has been mediocre at best. He is averaging just a shade over 11 points per game in April.

1) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
It’s certainly not ideal for the Bulls to have to rely on Rose in order to come out of the East, but that’s exactly what they’re going to have to do. He looked good against the 76ers on Saturday night, scoring 22 points, dishing eight assists and not turning the ball over at all. He was slicing and dicing through the lane at will, and Rose launching 3-pointers is not a sight Bulls fans want to see. He needs to be the terrorizing wrecking ball in the lane of old for Chicago to win the East, and at this point, it’s hard to imagine that being the case for an extended period of time

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