With the 2014 NBA playoffs starting on Saturday and only the final spot in the Western Conference up for grabs, most contending teams are currently fighting for seeding and momentum.
While many are bracing for No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in both conferences down the line, the top seeds will have to deal with some difficult lower seeds in the first round.
That’s especially true in the West, where a deep and loaded conference could cause some trouble for teams at the top. Some of these lower seeds have a good chance of winning a first-round series.
The Grizzlies aren’t quite in the playoffs yet, but they're in great shape with a full-game lead over the Phoenix Suns, plus the tiebreaker.
If Memphis can win Monday night's huge game at Phoenix or Wednesday’s home tilt with the Dallas Mavericks (who could be locked into the No. 7 seed and resting at that point), they will enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league.
Dealing with injuries early in the season, the Grizzlies had a disappointing start at 15-19 but have resembled a contender in the last three months. Since center Marc Gasol returned from an MCL injury on Jan. 10, the Grizzlies are 33-14. Rarely will a No. 8 be this hot or this talented.
The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs will face a challenge from either the Grizzles or Suns, even though the two teams have vastly different styles of play.
A thrilling win over the Suns last Saturday put the Mavericks in the playoffs after missing out last year. While Dallas has plenty of holes, it has the chance to reach 50 wins behind two offensive stars and some unexpected contributions from others.
The Mavericks have a pair of prolific scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, who are averaging 21.6 and 19 points per game, respectively. A potential series against the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a high-octane affair that could have a number of close back-and-forth contests.
Dallas has been tough at home this year, meaning it might need to steal just one on the road to advance.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have a chance in any series because of one player: Stephen Curry. Curry is averaging 23.9 points per game and can score a lot more than that on any given night.
Golden State needs Klay Thompson and David Lee to have outstanding series as well, but watch out if Curry starts to go off.
One more key will be the health of Andrew Bogut, who appeared to injure his ribs Sunday night. Bogut's value to Golden State on the glass cannot be understated.
A weak bottom half in the Eastern Conference makes it seem unlikely that anyone seeded lower than the No. 5 Brooklyn Nets has a chance to advance. Things in the West could get crazy however, as the three lowest seeds should be able to keep it close and exciting against the top teams.
If seeds hold, the Grizzlies will be looking for revenge for last year’s Western Conference Finals loss against the Spurs. Golden State split its four games with the Los Angeles Clippers this year, while the Mavericks took two of three from the Thunder, scoring 128 points on March 25.
To see one or more of the lower seeds in the West advance to the second round would not be a surprise.