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TOP 10 PLAYOFF X-FACTORS: At times, players come out of nowhere in the playoffs and elevate their games, giving their teams the unexpected push they needed to win a vital game or two.
Who could those players be at the Orlando bubble playoffs? Below, we rank our Top 10:
10. Dion Waiters: Averaging 11.9 points and 2.4 assists in the bubble, Waiters never runs low on self-confidence and has the capability to get hot at a moment’s notice. The Lakers could certainly use his perimeter scoring in the playoffs, and his drive-and-kick game remains underrated.
9. Seth Curry: The younger Curry brother is an elite outside shooter in his own right, and his knockdown prowess from three-point range could come up huge for Dallas against the favored Clippers in the first round.
8. Andre Roberson: In his first action since a year-plus-long injury recovery, the Colorado product averaged merely 2.8 points in the bubble, but did knock down a healthy 37.5 percent of his three-point looks. Against a high-powered offense in Houston in Round 1, Roberson’s defensive chops will be hugely important for OKC’s chances.
7. Donte DiVincenzo: A non-star player stepping up for the Bucks in the playoffs would be almost unfair considering how loaded they are as is, but if anyone can do it, it’s DiVincenzo, thanks to his competitiveness, his confident nature and his ability to get hot quick.
6. Eric Gordon: With Russell Westbrook set to miss time with a quad injury, Gordon will be even more important for Houston’s chances in the postseason. Gordon has dealt with his own injury troubles this year, including recently, but he’s going to need to be ready to go as soon as the postseason rolls around.
5. Norman Powell: Powell stepping up wouldn’t be a new thing, as he’s been solid for Toronto all year long, averaging 16.0 points this season while shooting 39.6 percent from three. But if he can elevate his production even more in the playoffs, the Raptors would be getting a much-needed boost to their offense in the bubble.
4. Tyler Herro: The bucket-getting 2-guard has had a solid rookie season, but seems to be taking his play to an even higher level in the bubble, where he’s averaging 19.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists over his last six games while slashing fiery 53.9/39.4/100.0 shooting splits. If he can maintain that level of production, Miami will be a tough out in the postseason.
3. Mike Conley: The Jazz point guard came into this season with huge expectations, as many thought he’d give Utah the dynamic point guard they’d been missing. To this point, however, that hasn’t really been the case. The playoffs will be a good chance for Conley to live up to the hype, especially with Bojan Bogdanovic out for the rest of the year.
2. Al Horford: Without Ben Simmons available, Horford was reinstated into Philadelphia’s starting lineup this week, and he’s going to need to be in top form for the Sixers to make a deep playoff push without their star point guard.
1. Michael Porter: The young, exciting swingman was sensational in the bubble, averaging over 22 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting north of 42 percent from three. If Denver is going to make a run in the postseason, he’s going to need to keep up that level of production, especially with Gary Harris and Will Barton not showing signs of returning any time soon.
MAJOR RETURN: It looks like the Clippers will have their Sixth Man of the Year candidate big man Montrezl Harrell available for the playoffs, which was not a sure thing as recently as yesterday morning.
ANOTHER COACHING FIRING: After an uncomfortably long wait, the Bulls finally announced that they would, in fact, be firing head coach Jim Boylen after two seasons on the job. Boylen went 39-84 in that stretch, but even beyond that, had various public, odd slip-ups while in Chicago.
Kenny Atkinson, Ime Udoka and Adrian Griffin will be among the Bulls’ top candidates to take over the job.
FREE-AGENT FORESHADOWING? Without hinting as to who he could be thinking about, Jimmy Butler confidently told ESPN he expects another star to join him on the Heat.
TOP TARGET: After last year’s fireworks, the Nets will have a quieter offseason over the coming months. Nevertheless, one order of business they’ll need to take care of is re-signing Joe Harris, which GM Sean Marks called their top priority.
Harris was the league’s 157th-highest-paid player this year, a number that will undoubtedly rise as soon as he signs his next deal.
BARKLEY TO BARSTOOL? After making huge waves in the media world this week by hiring NFL legend Deion Sanders, Barstool Sports president Dave Portnoy has his eyes on picking up Charles Barkley next. We’ll see what TNT has to say about that.
BUBBLE MVP RANKINGS: With the seeding games wrapped up, we ranked the Top 10 bubble MVP candidates. No. 1 is pretty obvious.
FRESH POD: Myles Turner joined our own Michael Scotto this week for a new edition of the HoopsHype podcast. The two talked about a variety of topics, including Victor Oladipo free-agency rumors, life in the bubble and dating.
MEDIA FOLLOWINGS: We ranked popular NBA media Twitter accounts by which ones had the highest number of NBA players following them. Somewhat surprisingly, Woj did not come in first.
30 AWARD CANDIDATES: We chose the top candidate for an end-of-season award from every single team. Some are a bit more plausible than others.
WINNING PLAYERS: NBA teams are lucky in that landing a single star player can lift up their entire team. To take a deeper look at that, we ranked various players by how much they elevated their teams’ winning percentages while they were on the roster.