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Playoff Assist: All-NBA big men and key guards off the bench

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

As we get closer to the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the push to secure a playoff berth and playoff positioning is the daily topic of conversation around the league. Let's take a look at five teams who are fighting for their playoff lives and the positioning to move on past the first round.

Al Jefferson trying to lead the Charlotte Bobcats away from first round death

With the Charlotte Bobcats promoting Al Jefferson for All-NBA with their BigAlsPaint.com campaign (which is brilliant by the way), it's a nice reminder of how incredible Big Al has been this season. He isn't having the best statistical season of his career but he's been the anchor for this team on offense and hasn't been all that bad on defense for a top 10 defensive team. He's trying to erase a two-game deficit to the Washington Wizards right now to help avoid the 7-seed in the East. Doing so would give his team a much more manageable first round matchup against the Toronto Raptors or Chicago Bulls.

Jefferson has a chance to lower the boom further on the Wizards Wednesday when these two teams meet for the final time this season. Charlotte is 2-1 against the Wizards this season. Jefferson has been fantastic since the All-Star break, giving the Bobs 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. A win Friday night over the Magic would give Charlotte its first .500 or better record this late in the season since 2010.

Marcin Gortat is trying to help the Washington Wizards keep away from the 7-seed

Trying to fend off the Bobcats from leapfrogging the Wizards for the 6-seed is Marcin Gortat. This big man has been great for the Wizards since the All-Star break with 15.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. The Wizards have been great with him on the court since the break, outscoring opponents by 5.9 points per 100 possessions and posting a defensive rating of 99.1 with him on the court (112.3 with him off).

Not only has Gortat been great for the Wizards in his role as their center, his job as a spy has also been quite productive. He snuck into the Boston Celtics' on-court players huddle Wednesday night in a blowout victory. He's truly doing it all, including indepth scouting for the Wizards.

Darren Collison has found his niche with the Los Angeles Clippers

Collison was so bad for the Dallas Mavericks last season that the team signed Mike James and had him start 23 games when Collison was certainly healthy enough to be the guy. This happened in 2013! He's had a great reboot for his career with the Clippers, fitting in nicely in his role as the second point guard and the third or fourth guard in the rotation. Since JJ Redick went down with injury, he's given the Clippers 13.9 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from 3-point range.

Where he's making his biggest impact is next to Chris Paul. The dual-point guard lineup has been destroying teams this season with a net rating of plus-14.0 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers' offense is has been good all season but with two quick dribble penetrators on the court at the same time with these two guards, they're posting a 115.1 offensive rating.

Reggie Jackson looks to keep Thunderous impact over Houston Rockets

People are still mad at Sam Presti for trading away James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it's allowed them to get deeper in their rotation while letting Reggie Jackson emerge as a fantastic sixth man. He's proven this nicely against the Rockets this season, a team the Thunder have owned in the regular season. Friday night, they'll have the chance to sweep the Rockets with a fourth win over them.

Jackson has been a huge part of that, both with and without Russell Westbrook available for the Thunder. Against the Rockets this season, Jackson is averaging 16.0 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 steals while shooting 56.2 percent from the field. The Rockets simply don't have an answer for him and with Patrick Beverley out for the time being, the impact should be even more impressive.

Joakim Noah's leadership and play has him as my All-NBA First Team

On Thursday, I wrote about Chicago Bulls' center Joakim Noah and his defensive impact. Breaking news: he's really good on defense but it's the way he adopts the Tom Thibodeau philosophy and audibly leads his team on each defensive possession that is most impressive. That doesn't even touch on how good he's been offensively for the team this season, either.

He would be my pick for All-NBA First team, over centers like Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert. I don't think you can argue anybody has had a bigger impact at the center position for their respective teams than Noah, especially when factoring in the sudden absence of Derrick Rose in November. Vote early and vote often.

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