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Top 10 NBA Championship X-Factors

By 04.16.10

Kevin Garnett, Dime #30


After avoiding it for years, I finally added “NUMB3RS” to my regular TV cop show rotation. Quick summary: FBI agent has his math-genius brother (a college professor at “Cal-Sci”) assist on cases where his math skills help catch the bad guys. Solid show, and contrary to my initial worries, it’s easy to follow even if you suck at math like me.

The other night I caught the “NUMB3RS” re-run where Pau Gasol and Jordan Farmar guest-starred. In that episode, Charlie (the math genius) is coaching the Cal-Sci basketball team, which is naturally terrible. In their first game they’re getting cracked by about 30 with less than four minutes to go when one of his assistants shows up with Gasol and Farmar, playing real-life NBA players, in uniform. (Apparently this is legal because they signed up for work-study internships at the school. Or something like that. And the opposing coach never complained.) So Gasol and Farmar check in, tell everyone else to get out of their way, and lead the comeback win.

Nobody will have that kind of sudden impact on any of the teams contending for a championship in 2010, but there are still a few notable X-factors who will decide the ‘chip this summer:

1. Antawn Jamison — All due respect to Shaq, but there’s no reason Jamison can’t be Cleveland’s top interior scorer. His knack for hitting tough shots from all angles, plus his off-ball movement coupled with LeBron’s vision and passing equates to plenty of easy buckets if they’re on the same page. When he’s getting those looks and hitting outside jumpers, it’s tough to keep him under 20 points a night.

On the other hand, there are glaring holes in Jamison’s game that could leave the Cavs short of a ‘chip once again. For starters, his defense needs work. In a recent game against Milwaukee, I noticed Jamison was constantly late on rotations, and he had a bad habit of leaving Ersan Ilyasova wide open for jumpers. Not good when it’s Ilyasova; REALLY not good when it’s Rashard Lewis in a seven-game series. And since coming over in the trade from Washington, Jamison is shooting 50 percent at the free-throw line. Ask John Calipari if that can’t come back to haunt you in the postseason.

2. Kevin Garnett — Yes, KG has officially gone from being a go-to superstar to a hit-or-miss X-factor. The optimist and KG supporter says he’s just getting over a sore knee and will ramp it up in the postseason when it really matters. The pessimist and KG critic says he’s washed up and not everyone realizes it yet. If he brings his DPOY shoes, the Celtics can’t be written off as a contender.

3. Nene — If somebody’s talking about a star-in-hiding in Denver who would be a serious problem if he could find some consistency, 99% of the time it’s J.R. Smith. But Nene (13.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) is a beast on occasion in his own right. And more than the Nuggets need another perimeter scorer to step up right now, they need their strongest guy on the front line to hold it down against a Murderer’s Row of potential playoff opponents: Boozer/Okur/Millsap in the first round; probably Gasol/Bynum/Odom in the second; maybe Duncan/McDyess/Blair or Dirk/Dampier/Haywood in the conference finals. And then? Dwight or Shaq for the championship.

4. Jameer Nelson — He wasn’t there for most of the ’09 Finals run, so in a sense he’s still playing catch-up. By the numbers, it’s been a subpar year for Jameer: His scoring is down, his shooting percentages are down, his steals are down, and his turnovers are up. He also missed a solid month of the schedule with injuries. With Vince Carter assigned to create offense and run the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard in crunch time, Jameer just needs to protect the ball, hit open shots, and defend his position.

Shawn Marion, Dime #29


5. Shawn Marion — The proverbial X-factor isn’t putting up double-double numbers (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) or getting All-Star nods anymore, but his rebounding, defensive versatility, and ability to score without any plays being run for him is still key to making the Mavericks a contender. And don’t start talking about Marion like he’s an old man; did you see the off-the-glass lob he caught from Jason Kidd a few days ago?

6. Jordan Farmar — The Lakers bench in general is their biggest X-factor and biggest weakness. As the second-string point guard, Farmar is the QB of that unit and some responsibility should fall on him to get them in gear.

7. Mike Bibby — For a 12-year veteran point guard who’s built his rep on being clutch, it was strange to see Bibby gradually lose his spot in Atlanta’s crunch-time lineup to Jamal Crawford. But remember, Crawford has never been to the playoffs before. How will he react to the big stage? There’s a window for Bibby (9.1 ppg, 3.9 apg) to get back in the mix here, not to mention he can give the Hawks a spark early if he’s hitting shots in the first quarter. In a recent win over the Lakers, Bibby scored the game’s first seven points on mostly wide-open shots and paved the way for an ATL blowout.

8. Jason Richardson — It’s as close to a guarantee as you’ll find in the NBA: If J-Rich gets off to a good start in the first quarter, he will have a big game. If he doesn’t, he won’t. The trick for Steve Nash and Alvin Gentry is figuring out how to get Richardson going without forcing it and upsetting the team’s rhythm.

9. Richard Jefferson — Can make up for a season’s worth of disappointment and letdown by putting it together for the next couple months. Promising stat: In four regular-season games against first-round opponent Dallas, RJ averaged 16.0 points, his highest split against any of this year’s playoff teams.

10. Lamar Odom — In the 38 games he’s started, L.O. has been good for 12.2 points, 11.6 boards and 4.1 assists. Andrew Bynum (Achilles) is supposed to be ready for the Lakers’ first-round series against OKC, but even if Bynum struggles through this postseason like he did last postseason, the Lakers will be fine as long as Odom shows up.

-Follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinBurton206
-Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag


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