Here are the 10 x-factors to look out for in the NBA Playoffs this spring.
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10. STEPHEN JACKSON
The Spurs are sitting pretty at the top of the Western Conference and the NBA. Behind their Big Four of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich, the Spurs excelling.
But the Spurs have rarely been healthy all year, (Boris Diaw: lower back strain, Jackson: sprained right ankle, Neal: left calf, Tim Duncan: sore left knee, Kawhi Leonard: left knee contusion, Manu Ginobili: strained left hamstring). Now with the potential MVP (Tony Parker) sidelined for at least a month, San Antonio needs others to step up.
The same could be said come playoff time. The Spurs hope to field a healthy roster, but health alone won’t bring them their fifth NBA championship. We know what to expect from Duncan, Ginobili and Parker each game, however, for the Spurs to get their hands on another Larry O’Brien trophy, they need another player to step up.
The best candidate is Stephen Jackson. On the season, he’s taking three triples a night and hitting barely 26 percent of them while for his career, Jackson makes 33 percent of his threes. Captain Jack is one of the biggest enigmas in the entire league. So far, Jackson is posting a career-low in usage at 18.29, but he is a veteran that was part of some great playoff runs in the past (’03 Spurs, ’07 Warriors). Jackson is a knockdown shooter, above average defender when locked in — don’t forget he gave Kevin Durant hell for a couple games last May in the WCF.
In order for San Antonio to still be playing come late June, it will need to get all that it can out of Stephen Jackson.
9. CHAUNCEY BILLUPS
In Los Angeles, the Clippers have risen to become the top team in all of Hollywood and that’s thanks mostly to a rapid change in culture.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the leaders of that change on the court, but off the court Chauncey Billups is bringing experience and leadership the Clippers have never had before. Injuries kept Mr. Big Shot off the court for most of his tenure in L.A. but he’s back now helping out.
A backcourt of CP3 and Billups is one of the better ones in the league, and for the Clippers to keep their success going in the postseason they need the Mr. Big Shot of old to show up. He adds another shooter to the starting lineup to help space the floor, and is a knock down free throw shooter for end-of-game situations (Billups posts a true shooting percentage of 56, which despite his rep, is actually only four points higher than the league average).
There are only 20 games left in the season for Lob City, and cohesion is the key word. Their projected starting lineup of Paul, Billups, Caron Butler, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have only played 176 minutes together this season. Yet with Billups in the lineup the Clippers are 25-12 in two seasons, and if they can keep this success going they will be around for a while in the postseason.