Despite the prevalence of perimeter pests, big men will still have a say in what happens this postseason. Here are four who will play a major role in determining their teams' fortunes
Atlanta was 3--1 against first-round opponent Orlando thanks largely to Collins, who helped hold Dwight Howard to just 43.1% shooting. What the 7-foot, 255-pound Collins lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in experience—he was a Nets starter in the 2003 Finals—instincts and footwork. Says an Eastern Conference scout, "And he's a great flopper."
With O'Neal (9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game before the All-Star break), Boston has a defensive anchor and solid low-post option. But lingering injuries have limited the Diesel to five minutes since the break. If he can't give them quality minutes, the Celtics will be vulnerable to penetration and will lack an enforcer in the paint.
After missing 24 games because of knee surgery, the 7-footer has been a force. Since the All-Star break, he's averaged 5.3 more rebounds and nearly one block more per game, while L.A. has led the NBA in opponents' field goal percentage and gone 17--6. Says one exec, "If he had played the whole season, we'd be talking about him for Defensive Player of the Year."
It never hurts to have a 6'10" power forward who strokes it like a two guard. The NBA's leading three-point shooter at week's end (45.5%), Bonner comes off the bench and immediately creates mismatches. Through Sunday, San Antonio was 17--0 when he scored 11 or more points and 13--0 when he connected three or more times from beyond the arc.
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (COLLINS)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (O'NEAL)
FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (BYNUM)
GLENN JAMES/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (BONNER)