Outside of the epic seven game series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs, the opening round of the NBA playoffs was somewhat short on drama. Out of the eight first-round series, three resulted in sweeps and another two were merely uncompetitive. With the conference semifinals in full swing, adding a renewed vigor to the postseason, here are five Latinos working to make an impact on the hardwood, counting down by importance to their respective franchises.
As a member of Argentina’s famed Golden Generation, Pablo Prigioni planted his flag on international basketball’s Mount Everest over a decade ago, capturing Olympic gold in Athens. Following a season-ending injury to starting point guard Patrick Beverly, Prigioni is now a key reserve for the Houston Rockets. Although he averaged only 3 points and 2 assists in round one, Prigioni was on the floor for 21 minutes per contest where his leadership, defensive effort, and ability to control game tempo proved significant. The 38-year-old has already hinted at retirement, so this could be Prigioni’s last chase for a ring, until he transitions to coaching.
Originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, Leandro Barbosa made his name with the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns, earning the league’s 6th Man of the Year award in 2007. Recognized stateside as the Brazilian Blur, Barbosa was the best player off the bench for the Golden State Warriors in their four-game sweep over the New Orleans Pelicans. Barbosa’s breakneck speed and ability to get to the rim will come in handy against the burly Memphis Grizzlies, particularly with point guard Mike Conley and Beno Udruh still on the mend. With Leandrinho on the court, a scoring play is often only seconds away.
Best known from his 2009 championship run with the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami native Trevor Ariza is one of the more versatile wings remaining in the tournament. After arriving in Houston via a trade with the Washington Wizards, the Dominican’s sharp defense gave the Rockets an instant upgrade over Chandler Parsons, who departed to the Dallas Mavericks. A streaky shooter with solid range, Ariza has the ability to score in bunches when he asserts himself on the offensive end. With James Harden in the backcourt, Houston is generally content with Ariza locking down the opposition’s best perimeter player, which leads to some intriguing defensive battles.
Regarded by hoops pundits as one of the strongest players in the Association, the Brazilian big man known simply as Nene could easily become the x-factor in the Washington Wizards’ post-season fortunes. After sweeping the Toronto Raptors behind a resurgent Paul Pierce, the Wizards will need Nene’s entire 6’11, 250 pound frame against the superior frontcourt of the Atlanta Hawks. Nene will have his hands full against All-Stars Al Horford and Paul Millsap, although his agility and muscle give him a fighting chance. For the Wizards to advance, Nene needs to avoid the foul trouble that plagued him in Washington’s impressive Game 1 victory in Atlanta.
As the son of former NBA player Tito Horford, Dominican Al Horford has been surrounded by basketball his entire life. A two-time NCAA champion at Florida, Horford is no stranger to winning and has been vital cog in the Atlanta Hawks’ transformation from moribund franchise to potential contender. The Hawks reeled off an undefeated month in January, an NBA record, and finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. If Atlanta is expected to make the leap to serious contender and reach the Finals, Horford must take his game to the next level and excel on offense in addition to his stellar rebounding.