Great X-pectations

Six more players whose performances could have an outsized impact on their teams' playoff prospects
April 14, 2014

Lance Stephenson

SG, Pacers

The 23-year-old free-agent-to-be treads the fine line between intensity and volatility. He has a well-rounded game (13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, a team-high 4.5 assists through Sunday) but can be his own worst enemy—witness his recent ejection for taunting during a critical game against the Heat. Stephenson must rein in his emotions and be a reliable playmaker for Indiana, which has slumped to 23rd in points scored per possession.

Ray Allen

SG, Heat

Miami had the NBA's top-ranked offense at week's end but had fallen from second last season to 14th in three-point accuracy. Allen has contributed to that dip by hitting just 37.1%, his worst mark since 2009--10, while averaging a career-low 9.7 points. The 38-year-old can still have an impact from deep, though: The Heat are 11--3 when he makes at least three threes. If injuries limit Dwyane Wade, Miami will need Allen to spread the floor by burying shots.

Carlos Boozer

PF, Bulls

Chicago's 27th-ranked offense is no death sentence in the playoffs, thanks to its No. 2 defense, but greater scoring efficiency would help. Can Boozer reemerge to provide it? The 32-year-old's production is down across the board, with his lowest scoring average (13.8 points) since his rookie year. This looms as Boozer's last chance to deliver for the Bulls, who could amnesty him in July and remove $16.8 million from their salary cap next season.

Marco Belinelli

SG, Spurs

Just about anyone can be an x-factor in San Antonio's refined system. The 6'5" Belinelli, 28, is merely the latest entry, signed last summer as another multidimensional backcourt threat. Through Sunday he ranked fifth in three-point shooting (44.0%) and had canned four or more 11 times. Fair warning to opponents: Keep your perimeter defensive rotations tight. Danny Green, the 2013 Finals standout, isn't the only guard who can bury you.

Wesley Matthews

SG, Trail Blazers

Portland has been up and down since a 24--5 start, which is largely reflected by Matthews. At week's end only four players had launched more threes than the 27-year-old, who had connected on 45.2% in wins and just 30.1% in losses. Matthews's quick-trigger, step-back shooting is key to the outside-in attack of the Blazers, who desperately need a third scorer—behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lilliard—if they're to win their first series since 2000.

DeAndre Jordan

C, Clippers

The 25-year-old leads the NBA in rebounding (13.8) and field goal shooting (65.1%) while averaging a career-high 35.4 minutes and appearing in the team's 13 most-used lineups. Still, Jordan's free throw shooting (44.4%) and limited offensive game have proved problematic in the postseason. Lacking depth at center in a West field loaded with quality big men, Los Angeles needs him to stay disciplined on defense to avoid foul trouble.