The Los Angeles Lakers ran away with the 2020 NBA Championship in the infamous Orlando Bubble playoffs. After acquiring Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James, the dream finally became reality for the Lakers as they hoisted another Larry O'Brien trophy. Now, as the 2021 playoffs are set to kick-off, the Lakers are gearing up for another run at a title.

However, their situation in the 2021 playoffs is polar opposite from what it was in the bubble. The Lakers finished as the top seed in the Western Conference last time and were as healthy as could be entering the playoffs. Unfortunately, this season the Lakers have dealt with injuries to essentially everybody on their roster, with LeBron and Davis missing months with various injuries.

Following an NBA trend of ongoing injuries, the Lakers have been kicked down to a likely spot in the play-in tournament, a far cry from being the top team a year ago. Nonetheless, the Lakers are getting healthy and hitting their stride. As everybody knows how important the superstar duo of LeBron and Davis are, the true x-factor for the Lakers might come as a bit of a surprise.

Wesley Matthews

Sure, how can a guy averaging 4.8 points 1.6 boards per game be an x-factor? It's rather simple, and just watching the Lakers last season and this season gives a clear reason as to why.

Of course, LeBron and Davis are the coal that keeps the train chugging along down the tracks. In last year's playoff run, Frank Vogel tinkered with many different things to find a way to get it done- and ultimately it worked. Vogel has done the same this season, although not by plan or blueprint. The injuries put a huge damper in his normal, night-to-night rotations and forced other guys to get significant playing time.

For Matthews, his calling card has always been as a 3&D guy, which is exactly why Rob Pelinka gave the veteran a call when free agency started and wasted no time signing him. He's played 14 seasons in the NBA and has bounced around the last six years, switching jerseys in each of those six and playing for the Dallas Mavericks twice.

While Matthews has come in and out of the rotation, he's ready whenever his name is called. To that point, his name was called more often in the past weeks after injuries to Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, and Dennis Schroder in COVID-19 protocols while both LeBron and Davis were resting up.

On May 12 against the Houston Rockets, Matthews sealed the deal with a clutch defensive play in the final seconds to secure the win for the Lakers.

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The night before that Matthews sent the game to overtime with an insanely clutch putback layup after a missed three against the New York Knicks.

It is those types of plays that the Lakers are going to need, and you never know when they are going to need it. The playoff rotation in the bubble was a revolving door, and Vogel switched players in and out for respective series to match against the opponents.

It's that physical, gritty play, especially on the defensive end that Vogel loves, and that type of play that will lead the Lakers to reveal another banner in Staples Center.

While it took Matthews a while to get going this season, he's emerged lately into the exact type of player they were hoping for when they brought him on board. His three-point shot has been hitting and his defense is winning games for the Lakers at a point of the year where wins are more crucial than pure gold.

Matthews might not play 20 minutes per game or score 15 points a game, not at all. However, he will be needed and might be somebody Vogel calls on when the game is on the line, as he has done in the past few games to help the Lakers build momentum as they aim to peak at the right time and hit their stride in hopes of another championship.