NBA Eastern Conference Playoff X-Factors: Who Could Have An Impact?

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NBA Eastern Conference Playoff X-Factors: Who Could Have An Impact?

The NBA postseason is finally here, bringing a stream of high-intensity postseason games. Superstars may often determine championships, but role players can also swing a series with key stretches of play.

Bettors who believe in the players below might believe positive performances could swing a crucial series for their teams. Check out X-factors for every Eastern Conference postseason team below, as well as NBA championship odds and basketball betting trends.

NBA championship odds and BetMGM betting info

The Celtics easily lead the pack with the most handle and tickets on them to win the championship, according to BetMGM.

Eastern Conference x-factors

Which player on each East squad could change his team’s fortunes?

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have been historically dominant all season and enter the playoffs as the title favorites. At this point, it seems unlikely that any East squad can knock Boston off, barring injury. Unfortunately, Kristaps Porzingis owns a scary injury history, which includes a torn ACL during the 2018 season. The veteran has been relatively healthy the last two seasons, but it’s always a concern at this point. 

Porzingis anchors Boston’s defense and ranks fourth in the league in rim defensive field goal percentage versus expected per Basketball Index. In addition to providing excellent rim protection, he has the agility to hedge high ball screens and play out on the perimeter. Boston’s defensive system would not be possible without Porzingis’ versatility, so his health could become a key issue. 

The same could be said on the other end of the court, too. While he thrives as a post scorer, his range opens up the pick-and-pop for the Celtics. A five-out offense with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown driving is a difficult proposition for opponents to defend.  

Boston is the most bet team by ticket percentage at Fanatics Sportsbook, at 45.5% of tickets. At BetMGM they also have the most handle and tickets on them to win. Below are their future odds heading into the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks

Is the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” occurring right now? What has happened to Damian Lillard? He’s shooting only 35% from 3-point range, owns an ugly 51% effective field goal percentage, and barely sits above league average in true shooting percentage. Lillard’s gravity remains the same, but he’s simply not knocking down shots at his typical rate. 

Because the star point guard struggles to fight through screens, wall off drivers, and survive on an island, he’s a liability in any defensive role. Milwaukee ranks 18th in defensive rating largely due to Lillard’s easily exploitable deficiencies. Therefore, he relies on shooting to fully compensate for the defensive negatives. 

Lillard has elevated his play in recent postseasons, but that stretch was during his prime. It’s unclear whether the now 33-year-old guard can sustain a prolonged nuclear assault for four straight rounds. For the Bucks to triumph, it’s an outcome that probably needs to happen, though. Milwaukee’s situation essentially boils down to the following:

At Fanatics Sportsbook, the Bucks have the fifth-highest percentage of tickets on them to win the title at 5%. Their preseason odds hovered around +400 and how now climbed with news on Giannis.

New York Knicks

In the first four weeks after trading for OG Anunoby, the Knicks were 12-2 and outscored opponents by 15.1 points per 100 possessions. For context, Boston leads the league with an 11.7 net rating. During that span, Anunoby averaged about 15 points per game on excellent 51/39/84 shooting splits while being one of the best defenders in the NBA. 

Disaster struck, however, as Anunoby and Julius Randle both went down with serious injuries. Randle is now out for the year, and Anunoby recently made his return. He’s still shaking off the rust, and New York will likely need him in top form this postseason. Not only does Anunoby space the court for Jalen Brunson and provide quality cutting, but his stellar defense blankets opposing scorers. If New York advances, limiting players such as Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Jimmy Butler, or Donovan Mitchell could be a massive reason why. 

Although the Knicks still possess a decent floor without Anunoby thriving, he takes them to a different level. Wing defense is a necessity in the modern NBA, and he provides it to the highest degree.

Orlando Magic

Due to injuries, Jonathan Isaac played only 11 games over the three seasons before this one. The former sixth-overall pick finally managed to stay healthy this year, and he’s been nothing short of transcendent. Isaac is the sole player across the association to rank in the top 10 in both block and steal percentage. He easily leads the league in rim defensive field goal percentage versus expected and sits 20th in defensive role versatility, too. With Isaac on the court, Orlando is allowing a paltry 101.9 points per 100 possessions — a mark that is first of the 292 players with at least 800 minutes this season. 

Plus, Isaac is shooting 39% from 3-point range on nearly two attempts per game and inspiring terror on the boards through his offensive rebounding. He is nothing short of a true game-changer and could be Orlando’s ace in the hole barring injury. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

With Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro, and Max Strus on the roster, Cleveland boasts a stingy defense. The Cavs are 17th in offensive rating, though, and routinely slog through stretches of ineffective basketball. Because playoff defenses tighten up and slow the game down, Cleveland will likely need an offensive spark to initiate mini runs and hit tough shots. 

Although Caris LeVert is not the most consistent producer, he’s still capable of scoring off the bounce and getting hot from deep. His efficiency volatility will be a huge storyline for Cleveland because it could easily take over games. If the veteran scorer racks up missed shots and empty possessions, then the Cavs could be in trouble due to a fangless offense. And while defense wins championships, offense fuels the run itself. 

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers sit second in offensive rating this season, but they have struggled to cobble together a somewhat effective defense all year. Over the team’s past 20 games, though, Indiana ranks 17th in defensive rating — a vast improvement. Andrew Nembhard joining the starting lineup finally gave it a viable option at the point of attack and a pest to throw at primary creators. 

The second-year guard is also a quality shooter with the passing chops to orchestrate possessions, which alleviates some of Tyrese Haliburton’s offensive burden. In summation, Nembhard acts as vital connective tissue for Indiana’s offense while being its top backcourt defensive option. 

Considering that the Pacers could line up against names like Damian Lillard, Jalen Brunson, Donovan Mitchell, or Tyrese Maxey, Nembhard’s on-ball defense may be the swing outcome for Indiana’s playoff hopes. One-dimensional teams rarely accomplish anything significant during the postseason, and Nembhard helps inch the Pacers away from this label. 

Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid has never been better. His improved pull-up midrange jumper is punishing sagging opponents who strive to protect the basket. Meanwhile, his court vision and passing accuracy out of double teams has taken a big leap, thus deterring opponents from attempting this strategy. Overall, he appears to be more scheme-proof than in recent seasons. Defensively, Embiid still poses issues for opposing slashers and roll men, too. 

However, he is highly injury prone, especially his knees. Philadelphia has little chance of competing without him, as evidenced by its 15-27 record this season sans Embiid. That’s the first major hurdle, but the reigning MVP also needs to be the best player on the court when the pressure mounts — and this has simply not been the case. In nine career playoff games when facing elimination, Embiid has averaged a mere 22 points per game while shooting 38% from the field and 25% from three. 

Miami Heat

Miami’s defense once the playoffs hit will feature Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Haywood Highsmith under Erik Spoelstra’s guidance. The offense though … yikes. The Heat rank 21st in offensive rating, 20th in effective field goal percentage, and 15th in assist-to-turnover ratio. 

That’s where Tyler Herro enters the equation. He’s a microwave scorer with the tools to score off the bounce and get hot from deep — a perfect instant offense combination. For example, of the 85 players with at least 200 pull-up attempts this season, Herro is 17th in pull-up effective field goal percentage. 

Overall, the Heat could be a terrifying dark horse should Herro become scorching hot and subsequently provide two-way balance to the squad. 

Chicago Bulls

DeMar DeRozan and Coby White pack a punch offensively, but Chicago will likely require more juice to advance past the play-in tournament and potentially make some noise during the first round. While Nikola Vucevic is posting nearly 18 points per game, he is doing so on well below league-average effective field goal percentage and true shooting. The big man’s 3-point touch has evaporated, so it would behoove him to increase his rolls, post-ups, and cuts. Vucevic’s passing on post-ups often leads to great shot quality for the Bulls, which is another reason for him to reduce the pick-and-pop volume. 

Meanwhile, Vucevic’s limited mobility and vertical athleticism severely hinder his high-ball screen defensive options. Chicago essentially must play drop coverage because Vuc cannot hedge or blitz properly. The Bulls will have to live with allowing pull-up threes, but he must not let the ball handler or roller consistently get to the basket. 

If Vucevic plays to his offensive strengths and blocks driving lanes, then Chicago has a puncher’s chance to avoid an extremely early loss. 

Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young and Dejounte Murray have both been effective as lead guards for Atlanta, but their fit together on the court is clunky. Their skills overlap too much, and neither is comfortable enough off-ball. 

Because Young is the superior primary creator, Murray will likely need to be the one to compromise. As a result, his catch-and-shoot efficiency could be paramount to Atlanta’s success. When Young sits, though, he has to be able to turn on the Murray show and carry the offense for significant stretches via self-created scoring and playmaking. 

On the other end, Murray’s defensive decline puts the Hawks in a bind given Young’s woes. If the Washington product can fit his offensive game to Atlanta’s needs while rediscovering a portion of his lost defensive prowess, then the Falcons could be lurking in the shadows.

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