10 players without household names who can swing a series

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It’s not all about Kobe and LeBron and KG.

Part of the beauty of the playoffs is the little guys (not used literally in the NBA) who don’t get the national media spotlight but often enough suddenly show up and blow people’s doors off. People that couldn’t have picked Tony Allen out of a one-man lineup suddenly love him like a long-lost uncle.

Here are 10 players who are all-too-often overlooked but could swing a playoff series.

Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers. The forward was in the All-Star game in 2010, but playing for a bad Bobcats team then being traded to Portland seemed to take him out of the spotlight. However, he has played maybe the best ball of his career since the trade, averaging 15.8 points per game. He could key a Trail Blazers first round upset of the Mavericks. Wallace is a versatile player, can defend and is an offensive force, plus can rebound. He’s tough, he gets under your skin (he did with Ron Artest recently). He’s going to get a lot of time on Dirk Nowtizki and if he can keep the German in check Portland has a chance. .

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia. If the 76ers are going to push the Heat, it’s because Young will be having a great series. He is a hard working defender who slashes to the rim. He has given the Sixers 12 points and 5 rebounds a game off the bench, and big production from the Philly bench will be key for that team against the top-heavy Heat.

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies. He is a hard-nosed, old school defender who got a lot of playoff experience in Boston. Now, Memphis needs him to shut down Manu Ginobili (well, when Ginobili gets back from his injury). He was shooting 60 percent the last 6 games of the season, and if they get offense out of him their chances of pushing the Spurs goes way up. The Grizzlies need the perimeter production.

James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s always has been important to the Thunder, but since the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade he has stepped up his game, averaging 15.8 per game since the All-Star break. A fun player to watch, he just always seems to make the right play. He will be key in the second round and beyond.

Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets. He is key to any chance the Nuggets have against the Thunder. The quick point guard averaged nearly 16 points per game on 57 percent shooting against the Thunder this season. He needs to break down the Thunder defense, and if he can get a couple fouls on Kendrick Perkins that would help.

Ronny Turiaf, New York Knicks. New York’s chances of knocking off Boston will hinge on getting some stops — the Knicks have some guys who can put up points, but can they keep Boston from scoring? Turiaf will be key here, he was their best defensive center with the four starters after the trade. They need him to protect the rim and rebound.

Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic. He’s a big man with a sweet stroke, hitting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, 41.1 percent in his last 10 games. A real stretch four. He will create matchup problems and if he can wear out guys like Al Horford of Atlanta his team will be a lot better for it.

Jason Collins, Atlanta Hawks. It’s this simple — if he can hold Dwight Howard in check this series, doing so in man-on-man coverage without a lot of help, the Hawks have a chance. During the regular season he was able to single cover Howard and that allowed the other Hawks defenders to stay home on the Magic’s many shooters. He is key to the Hawks chances.

Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets. He has stepped up big for the Hornets since David West went down injured — in the team’s last 10 games he has been the leading scorer at 14.9 points per game on 51.8 shooting. He will be matched up with Pau Gasol and for the Hornets to have a chance of beating the Lakers he’s got to win that battle.

George Hill, San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs count on their bench guys to come in, play the system, defend and knock down shots. Hill does it beautifully. He shot 37.7 percent from three and gave the Spurs 12 points a game, getting big minutes (28 a game). The Spurs bench has been their undoing (well, part of it) in recent seasons and Hill will be key to changing that this time around.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.