Five role players who can help their team win an NBA title

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma had injuries for the defending champion. Kevin Durant played just 24 minutes after missing nearly two months with a hamstring injury. and James Harden had to take a break for Brooklyn too. Kyrie Irving and Dennis Schröder were ejected prematurely after a fearful personal confrontation. That made Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge, two buyout recipients, compete against each other on the ABC Showcase stage. Uff.

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At this point, the remaining dog days of the season are unlikely to result in any major revelations. There are plenty of seeding bouts to watch, but the candidate class is five weeks before the playoffs, save for a long-awaited push from the Miami Heat. With the postseason on the horizon, here are five players worth circling as X-Factors for teams with title aspirations.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Brooklyn Nets: The 35-year-old has been the Brooklyn launch center since his buyout from the San Antonio Spurs last month and has referred DeAndre Jordan to the bench. This is a clear upgrade for the nets, which have made advances in their defense and rebound since the start of the season and have emerged as favorites for the title according to some odds.

Still, Brooklyn, which relies heavily on an explosive perimeter approach, remains prone to mismatches with large physical centers. Drummond had 20 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday, without James and Davis, who overwhelmed the playoff opponents with their physicality last year. If the nets claim the top seed of the east, they shouldn’t have any real problems with Aldridge for the first two rounds. Whether Aldridge can defend against the Lakers or the Philadelphia 76ers of Joel Embiid could determine the playoff fate of the Nets.

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Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz: The nice thing about the exciting regular season of jazz was that it wins along with balanced offense and disciplined defense. In theory, deep and cohesive teams should rely less on a single swing player in the postseason. In practice, Utah has yet to prove that its formulas will carry over to the playoffs, also because there are no good position matchups for James, Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Bogdanovic, who missed last year’s playoffs with a wrist injury, is a pivotal piece as he helps keep the Utah offense, which is first in the three pointers made and third in overall efficiency, from failing a one-man show is reduced by Donovan Mitchell in clutch situations. 31-year-old Bogdanovic is a good but streaky outside shooter whose self-confidence fluctuates. He shot 8-1 from depth during overtime against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday and held an open three-pointer twice late in the fourth quarter when Mitchell lost a 41-point attempt. Bogdanovic has to show up in May as Utah has to create space around the Rudy Gobert center and has limited options for scoring in the forecourt.

Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks: The last five months of moves have left the Bucks with no choice but to trust the 24-year-old. The Milwaukee back room overhaul resulted in Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Wesley Matthews and DJ Augustin leaving, among others. The newcomer Jrue Holiday made most of the headlines and a lucrative contract extension worth up to 160 million US dollars.

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Quietly, DiVincenzo put together a career year in his third season, averaging 10.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists, while shooting 38.4 percent with three pointers and enjoying near-perfect availability. The Bucks playoff lineups will revolve around their three stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Holiday – but they will rely heavily on DiVincenzo in matchups with guard-heavy rivals like the Nets and Heat. DiVincenzo didn’t leave much of a mark in a quiet 2020 postseason and the Bucks will need him to clear the ground in late game situations and do his best to hold out against more successful opponents like Harden and Irving.

Aaron Gordon, Denver Nuggets: Before the Nuggets stumbled upon the Boston Celtics on Sunday, they had won their first seven games after beating Gordon by averaging 11 points last month. Denver’s top line-up – Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton – together achieved an incredible offensive rating of 133.9 in 90 minutes, making the versatile 25-year-old striker like a perfect fit and the best the NBA looks like major trade deadline movers.

Gordon isn’t a star, but he has the potential to move Denver from “very good” to “great” in the playoffs. His multi-position defense will be vital for potential matchups with the Lakers and Clippers elite. His ability to move away from the ball, finish Jokic’s passes, and keep the defense honest gives the Nuggets an offensive cap that few other competitors can match. The only problem? Gordon has five games and only one playoff win in his eight-year career, and he will be thrown straight into the fire against a high-profile opponent, regardless of which team Denver draws in the first round.

Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers: Harris’ problems with his all-star nudge this season would have met a more receptive audience if he hadn’t had a 2020 postseason to forget. The 28-year-old forward has ticked all the boxes this season, averaging 20.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists while flirting with the 50/40/90 shooting club (52 percent on field goals, 40 , 1 percent for the three-pointers). 88.9 percent on free throws) for a Philadelphia team that was at or near the top of the conference.

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Even so, Harris is trapped in the “not a real star” category due to his boring playoff resume. After Ben Simmons was injured last year, Harris was unable to step forward as a positive differentiator, shot poorly from the outside and was poorly played out by the Celtics wing corps in the first round. The 76ers played exceptionally well when Embiid and Simmons split the field this season, but they need Harris to be the more reliable top scorer if they are to aggressively keep up with the Nets and Bucks in the postseason.