With the NBA playoffs days away, it is time to analyze which teams have a shot to make a deep run, and what they have to do to pull it off. I will name one X Factor for each NBA playoff team in the eastern conference, starting with seeds 1-5. An X Factor is not always the team’s best player, but someone whose unpredictable performance can make or break their team’s season
Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler
Despite sitting firmly as the one seed in the east, the majority of fans and analysts have not mentioned the Miami Heat as title contenders. The team made the NBA Finals as recently as 2020, yet many believe they lack superstar talent that is required when facing top competition.
Jimmy Butler is the lead player and played a major role in taking Miami to the championship in the bubble, however has not produced at the same level since. He shoots under 20% from three point range and under 40% on mid range, which allows players to not respect his jump shot.
The Heat need Butler to be an efficient scorer if Miami wants to take the east once again, as Miami will have to score with some of the best offenses in all of basketball.
Boston Celtics: Al Horford
No team in the east has been as hot as the Boston Celtics since All-Star Weekend. Jayson Tatum asserted himself into MVP conversations with his level of play, and currently sit as the two seed in the east after not being a top eight seed back in December.
Most of the team remained healthy through this stretch, however one key loss was Robert Williams, who is now out for the season. Williams is one of the best interior defenders in the NBA, and in a conference that features Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Celtics must defend well in the paint.
Al Horford is expected to take on Williams’ defensive role, but it will be a tall task for the 35-year old big man. Horford has not played at an all-star level since leaving the Celtics for Philadelphia in 2019, but improved this year back in Boston’s system.
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton
Giannis Antetokounmpo will always be the first name associated with the Bucks, but if this roster manages to bring home another title, Khris Middleton will join Milwaukee’s list of sport legends.
Middleton was exceptional in the 2021 playoffs, and his consistent scoring and jump shooting made it impossible for opposing defenses to key in strictly on the 2x MVP. His best performance of the playoffs came in a 40 point outing in the NBA Finals, which would even the series at 2-2 at that point.
Middleton also recorded many key baskets down the stretch against the Brooklyn Nets in their seventh game. If Middleton was not playing at the level he was, it is very possible the Bucks ended their season as a second round exit instead of world champions.
If Milwaukee does repeat, it will be largely due to the play of the Greek Freak’s partner in crime.
Philadelphia 76ers: Tyrese Maxey
Drama controlled the first half of the 76ers’ season this year, but since the acquisition of NBA 75 member James Harden, Philadelphia has real title aspirations. Joel Embiid is playing as well as anyone in the sport right now, but in order to win the conference, role players must step up into greater roles.
One of the players that must elevate their play in the postseason is Tyrese Maxey. The second year guard is averaging 17 points a game and is a sufficient backcourt starter to pair with Harden.
Maxey will be relied on to hit shots on the perimeter, and the shooting guard is beginning to step up in that aspect. His 30 point outing against the Indiana Pacers Tuesday included a career-high eight three-pointers made.
Maxey has the potential to become a third star for Philadelphia, and has to perform well in order for the 76ers to advance far in the tournament.
Chicago Bulls: Nikola Vucevic
The hype surrounding the Chicago Bulls is beginning to die down, as injuries and poor play against top competition resulted in the squad dropping in the standings down to fifth. DeMar Derozan is having his best season as a pro, however it will take much more than his strong play for Chicago to make postseason noise.
The most disappointing player for the Bulls is Nikola Vucevic, as the former all-star is not playing like a top ten center. His scoring averages are down six points from two years ago, and his defense leaves much left to be desired.
However, if Vucevic is able to dominate in the post like he did back in Orlando, Chicago can be a tough out for any top seed.
You can read other X Factor articles on Knup Sports.