2460 games later and we have reached the real season. The regular season is behind us and by the time you are reading this playoff action will be underway. Instead of the generic ‘playoff preview’ that I was considering, I’ve made my picks for the players who loom as important factors for each postseason squad.
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Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry
THE Raptors All-Star starting point guard had a solid postseason last year, but he has a bit of a reputation of not showing up when the going gets tough. Heading into the playoffs for the 5th straight year, Toronto is poised to make their deepest run yet and if they are going to do some then they need Lowry firing. He chalked up his 4th All-Star nod this year and his per game numbers have taken a bit of a hit due to how deep the team is. Make no mistake though they need him to do some heavy lifting in the coming weeks.
Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum
WITHOUT Kyrie Irving the Celtics will be forced to use Jayson Tatum as their primary scoring option. He is supported by Marcus Morris, Al Horford and Jalen Brown, who is actually doing a lot of the scoring right now. Tatum’s versatile skill set makes him the man in this series though and he has to try and shut down one of the most versatile players in recent memory in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not exactly what Brad Stevens had in mind for his rookie’s first playoff series.
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Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid
PHILLY has shown that they can win without their big man in uniform, going 8-0 without him to end the season. They won’t be going far in the playoffs without him at 100%, with his health the biggest question mark around the team. He has played in 63 games already this season, proving a lot of people wrong that he can handle a big workload and he will need to do so again if the Sixers are going to go on a run. A healthy Joel Embiid is a scary prospect.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Rodney Hood
SINCE coming over to the Cavs Rodney Hood has been struggling to find his mojo. His scoring numbers are down from when he was at Utah and he has battled some niggling injury issues through 21 games, but he needs to fire for Cleveland if they are any chance to win it all. His defensive ability will be his biggest asset and shutting down Victor Oladipo for the Cavaliers would be a huge plus in the first series.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner
A slightly disappointing season from Myles Turner means that Indiana has no home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Now would be the right time for Turner to show up and dominate with a matchup against the Cavs weak frontcourt. Victor Oladipo will be a massive factor, but if the Pacers want to upset Cleveland someone else needs to step up and play like an All-Star. Turner could be that guy.
Miami Heat: Kelly Olynyk
WE have seen in the past what Kelly Olynyk can do in the playoffs, with his Game 7 performance last year, one that Celtics fans won’t forget anytime soon. Some more postseason heroics would be nice for the Heat if they are going to stand any chance against the 76ers. If Olynyk can keep up that sparkplug off the bench role then Miami stands a chance of toppling Philly.
Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker
2017-18 hasn’t been a great season for Jabari Parker. In his comeback season from a knee injury, Jabari featured in 31 games during the back half of the year. He has ramped up his output recently and his last six games Parker is posting 19.5 points and 8.2 rebounds a night. Those are the kind of stat lines he will need to have for the Bucks if they want to advance. I have high hopes.
Washington Wizards: John Wall
IT sounds crazy to say the biggest x-factor for the Wizards is their best player. John Wall is more than deserving of the title though, with his return from injury and the drama surrounding his absence a massive factor in Washington year. Through the last few weeks of the season Wall appeared in four of the Wizards last seven games, yet they posted a 2-5 record to finish. His numbers in those games were awesome, but he is going to have to be at another level this year for Washington to survive.
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Houston Rockets: P.J. Tucker
TUCKER has had a good year meshing into Houston’s nucleus and playing his role in their success. Playing every game and starting in half of them Tucker’s defense is a massive plus for the Rockets, who are a pretty sound defensive team now. His play is definitely a factor in that and with Luc Mbah a Moute out for the entire first round, Tucker will need to step up and perform at his best. If he does that, then everyone else should be worried.
Golden State Warriors: Andre Iguodala
IT seems like Steph Curry will return sooner rather than later for the Warriors which means Iggy’s workload will lessen. Until that time comes though, it seems like the 2015 Finals MVP will be the other member of the Warriors starting unit. His production will huge for Dub Nation, but he isn’t getting any younger. A rough series from the 34-year old could see the Warriors fall short of a title and see their legacy begin to crumble. How Iguodala plays in the playoffs will be a massive telling point in how Golden State’s next few months play out.
Portland Trailblazers: Maurice Harkless
MAURICE Harkless has already been ruled out for Game 1 of the series with New Orleans and Portland are dying to have him back. When the Blazers started to peak this year Harkless was a big reason why shooting over 55% on 3-point tries in his 12 post All-Star break games. We aren’t really sure what Portland’s deal is yet and a healthy Harkless could help make us believe they are the real deal.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Carmelo Anthony
THE time has come for Melo to adapt and play the role as a spot-up shooter to perfection. He has done so in the past (see: Olympic Melo), but Carmelo Anthony hasn’t been able to make the change in OKC this season. Anthony found himself on the pine to close out some games and went on a terrible shooting slump down the stretch. He shot less than 38% from the field and 28% from deep in the final five games of the year and if he keeps that up the Thunder are doomed. If he gets hot though, then nothing’s out of the question.
Utah Jazz: Ricky Rubio
HOW Ricky Rubio shoots in the playoffs is going to be a big deal for the Jazz. In fact, it might be the most important factor surrounding the team as they look to stay hot in the postseason. Rubio has had his best year ever shooting the rock and him being able to score is a massive help for Utah, who were expected to trend back down the standings. If he can help support Donovan Mitchell the Jazz will like their chances of advancing.
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New Orleans Pelicans: Rajon Rondo
NOLA probably stands the best chance of a lower seed upsetting their higher-ranked opponents. The play of superstar Anthony Davis is a given, but how Rajon Rondo plays will be a necessity. In the Pels five-game winning streak to close 2017-18 Rondo has put up 11.4 assists a night and is the primary playmaker for New Orleans. Jrue Holiday and Davis can hold down the scoring, but Rondo will determine a lot.
San Antonio Spurs: Kyle Anderson
IT’S official Kawhi Leonard isn’t coming back to save the day and without their main man there hopes for the title are all but gone. That doesn’t mean they can’t cause some havoc in the meantime and if they are going to make their series against Golden State interesting Kyle Anderson will need to be balling. He has steadily filled in as a starter while Leonard was hurt, but he needs to lift his scoring to at least double digits. Anderson has the talent to do so for sure and he’ll need to get to his peak sooner rather than later if Pop wants to stand a chance.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler
WHICH Jimmy Butler will show up? If he can play like the same man that helped them knock the Nuggets out of the playoffs and put up 31 points, five rebounds and five assists regularly, watch out. Seeing Butler struggle with conditioning means we will likely see the worst case scenario for Minnesota. His defensive prowess will also be a massive contributor and if he isn’t on the court to help it could be a very quick series with Houston.
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