When higher stakes mix with a new-found sense of hope, the result is an exciting second round of NBA playoff basketball.
The first group of winners, a little over a quarter of the league's total teams, face off to further separate the elite from the very good. Sometimes that difference is evident, and other times, it's nearly indecipherable.
The four matchups we have in this year's second round are each intriguing in their own way, and here, to accompany the excitement, are eight bold predictions—two from each series—to look out for as all the action unfolds.
All that's certain is four teams are headed home, and four will soon be moving on.
All statistics in this article were used from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com/Stats
Tiago Splitter suffered a serious ankle sprain in round one against the Los Angeles Lakers, forcing the team to announce he'd be out indefinitely, but not ruling him out for the second round.
Splitter didn't see big minutes in that series even before going down with the injury, as San Antonio preferred to drag Los Angeles' big men to the perimeter by playing Matt Bonner instead of going at their strength down low.
The strategy worked. But against the Golden State Warriors, a team that lacks their power forward All-Star David Lee and is expected to go small a ton, Splitter might have the opportunity to dominate in the post.
If he sees extended time on the likes of either Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes, the technically skilled Splitter could experience his best playoff series as an NBA player.
In Stephen Curry's very first playoff experience, he set the NBA record for most threes made (23) and attempted (52) in a six-game series.
No player meant more to his team in the opening round or (offensively) took over games with the same sudden ferocity. In moments where Curry caught fire, the Denver Nuggets had no answer potent enough to keep things competitive.
The all-time record for three-pointers made in a playoff series is 28, shared by Dennis Scott in 1995 and Ray Allen in 2001. Curry will surpass that number going up against the San Antonio Spurs.
He's the most important player on the team, the best shooter in the world and, arguably, the most valuable player in these playoffs. Against the San Antonio, he'll further prove it by setting a record that's stood for over 10 years.
With his team expected to trail on the scoreboard for a majority of this series, Curry will be asked to shoot more than even he probably should.
Since defeating the Miami Heat as the defensive hub for Dallas, Tyson Chandler's seen himself venture on a meteoric rise within NBA circles.
He signed a giant multi-year contract with the New York Knicks to improve their long-decaying defense, then won Defensive Player of the Year.
But right now, he's playing with several injuries, including one to his neck. He doesn't look like the same player on either side of the floor, and despite grabbing 10 or more rebounds three times against the Boston Celtics (one of the worst rebounding teams in basketball), Kevin Garnett dominated Chandler.
Against the younger Roy Hibbert—not to mention David West and Paul George, two elite rebounders for their respective positions—Chandler will once again struggle to have a consistent impact on the glass.
Paul George is coming off a first-round series in which he averaged 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals (leading the Indiana Pacers in all categories) with a 20.0 PER. He also spent a large portion of the series guarding one of Atlanta's best players, Josh Smith, a much bigger opponent.
The Pacers won the series in six games, and George was far and away the biggest reason why.
Heading into the second round, George has an opportunity to further establish himself as one of the best two-way players in the entire league.
Capable of guarding New York's three most dangerous offensive weapons (Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith), he will exert serious energy and time on each. The only area that's seriously given him trouble this season is in the post against Anthony.
Often, George will either gamble trying to steal the entry pass, over-trusting the help/Roy Hibbert behind him, or he'll get bullied into point-blank range.
If George can avoid putting himself in compromising positions in post defense, he could completely dominate this series on both ends of the court.
Anthony may have received an uncalled for first-place MVP vote, but George will look like the better, more important basketball player.
In the first round, LeBron James averaged 24.5 points, 6.8 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game, while only needing to play 36.8 minutes.
James' services should be required in the second round against the Chicago Bulls, a team that ended Miami's winning streak and plays a possession-by-possession style that allows no easy baskets and few simple defensive stops.
In short, the Heat will need James now, especially if Dwyane Wade's knee injury continues to keep him below his best.
The world's best player is more than capable of upping his averages to a triple-double throughout a seven-game series, and it could happen facing a team that might lack All-Star forward Luol Deng.
Doesn't sound all that bold, does it? Well, it is. The Chicago Bulls have just about every meaningful player on their roster either playing through severe pain, or not well enough to suit up in a jersey and sneakers. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose (who reportedly won't play in the series), Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson qualify for at least one of the above.
Statistics aren't yet able to quantify the grit and heart this team possesses. But they do tell us how impressive the Bulls are on the defensive end and the offensive glass.
Chicago grabbed 10.7 offensive rebounds per game in the regular season, which was sixth-best in the league. In four games against Miami this season (they split the series), it out-rebounded the Heat 43.5 to 32.0 and held them to just 87.5 points per game.
If Nate Robinson can dribble his way through Miami's constant traps on the perimeter, Chicago just might find enough offense to make this series interesting. All that work on the glass and defensive end will keep it in games, but it's the gritty ferociousness it exudes on the court that will carry it to more than one surprising victory.
Kendrick Perkins has long been viewed as Oklahoma City's weak link. He's slow and typically ignored when on offense, allowing the defense to play 4-on-5, seriously hurting his team's spacing.
But the playoffs are all about matchups, and while Perkins might be useless against small-ball happy teams like the Houston Rockets or Miami Heat, the Memphis Grizzlies are an opponent that greatly increases his value.
During the regular season, when Zach Randolph faced the Thunder and Perkins was on the bench, Memphis' dominating forward averaged 18.9 points and 7.6 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes. With Perkins on the court, those numbers dropped to 12.7 and 1.3, respectively.
The sample size is obviously small, and the two weren't matched up each and every possession they shared the floor, but Perkins is one of the best post defenders in the league for a reason. His presence on the court against both Randolph and Marc Gasol will, at the very least, allow Oklahoma City to play the post honest; no double-team necessary.
Perkins actually found himself on the floor for the final 6:58 of Game 1, a stretch in which the Thunder had a plus-six rating and barely hung on to win.
The Memphis Grizzlies are viewed by the casual NBA fan as a team that lacks any one go-to superstar. They don't have a dominant two-way player who's able to elevate his teammates to another level.
But in reality, Marc Gasol is that player, and in this second-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder he'll prove it.
Gasol just won the first Defensive Player of the Year trophy of his career, and on offense, he's the best passing big man in the league with a trusty jump shot.
Against the Thunder, he's the one player needed to not only score, but also protect the paint against constant attacks by Kevin Durant. Gasol didn't make the All-Star game this season, but after firmly establishing himself as a star in this series, he should be invited for years to come.
Only a handful of players are able to hold the true "superstar" label. Marc Gasol will soon be one of them.