NBA Playoffs 2013: Key X-Factors for Sunday's Action

Pete SchauerCorrespondent IApril 21, 2013

Apr 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni instructs Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Blake (5) against the Golden State Warriors during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Getting their first taste of playoff basketball here in 2013, plenty of NBA teams will be looking to set the series tone early in their Game 1 matchups on Sunday.

We all know who the stars are on each team, but here we're looking at some of the lesser-known players who could play big roles in their teams' first-round matchups.

I've highlighted three teams that I have losing in the first round of the playoffs and highlighted each team's X-factor—the not-so-obvious player who has to be at his best in order for his team to advance to the next round.


PG Steve Blake, Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash is optimistic that he'll return to the lineup for the playoffs on Sunday (according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN), but that doesn't mean that Steve Blake won't be a key to a Lakers upset of the San Antonio Spurs.

Filling in for the injured Nash, Blake has averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and four assists in April while shooting better than 40 percent from downtown in 39 minutes per game. During that time, the Lakers are 7-1 and should be looking to Blake to carry that effort into the postseason.

With Los Angeles now being more of a post up team with Kobe Bryant on the shelf, Blake is the type of player who can share the ball with Dwight Howard and hit spot-up jumpers from the outside.

Look no further than Blake's most recent performance against San Antonio—23 points (4-of-8 from downtown) on Apr. 14—as evidence that he's the X-factor and key for Los Angeles against the Spurs.


SF Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are going to have a tough time playing against a young and physical team like the Indiana Pacers, but Kyle Korver is the type of player who can spark the Hawks offense and lead Atlanta over Indiana.

Korver has the ability to stretch the Pacers defense with his .457 three-point shooting mark (second in the NBA) and 189 three-pointers made. The veteran shooter enters the NBA playoffs coming off an impressive April where he shot 48 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 12 points per game.

Atlanta is 2-2 against Indiana this season and has seen Korver average 14.5 points in those wins, making him the X-factor for the Hawks.

Of course, Atlanta will need clutch games from Josh Smith and Al Horford, but I see Korver as the key to a series win for the Hawks.


SF Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets will have their hands full with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Chandler Parsons can take some pressure off of his team with a solid series performance.

The 24-year-old small forward does a little bit of everything, averaging 15.5 points, 3.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds and a steal per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range.

Russell Westbrook will contain Jeremy Lin and OKC's defense is sure to direct plenty of attention toward James Harden, making Parsons the ultimate X-factor for the Rockets. That's not to say the Thunders' wings can't handle guarding Parsons, but he's not the first offensive option in Houston.

This series is likely to be all Oklahoma City, but the thought of a young player like Parsons making some noise against the No. 1 seed has to intrigue some fans out there.


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