What's a seed, really, than just another number?
Like most professional sports, the NBA seeds its postseason qualifiers based on regular-season performance. But that's a measurement of the marathon, when a much better indicator is the late form in the sprint.
The smart money in the NBA playoffs is usually best spent on the top seeds, and for good reason. But upsets happen, and this year's crop of postseason underdogs is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous in years.
While the exact matchups won't be finalized until Wednesday night, there's no need to wait for 2014 playoff pairings to see that some of the lower-seeded teams have already flipped the switch on upset mode.
The squads at the top of the standings have been locked into the postseason for a while, with many resting starters and experimenting with lineups with little concern for overall seeding. The same can't be said for those teams that make up the lower half of both the Eastern and Western Conference's playoff qualifiers.
That's where you'll find some of the hottest teams out there right now, teams that can best be described as dangerous.
If you think about it, Memphis has been in the playoffs for the past week, slipping past Phoenix down the stretch to lock up a spot and keep itself in the running for as high as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference depending on how it fares Wednesday in the finale against Dallas. The winner gets a matchup with Oklahoma City.
While having to beat Kevin Durant and the Thunder in a seven-game series isn't the most welcoming experience, the Grizzlies have shown of late that they fear no team or situation.
Throw out the 20-point loss at San Antonio on April 6 and you'll see several solid results, including over Miami on April 9 and then taking both ends of a road back-to-back over the LA Lakers and Phoenix on Sunday and Monday.
We've needed every game basically since February it seems like. We've played every game like a playoff game. It's been fun to be part of a group that comes in and stays focused and to get back in the playoffs.
Conley has provided a huge boost of late, scoring 26 against Miami and netting 10 of his 14 points against Phoenix in the fourth quarter. That included his first career go-ahead three-pointer in the final two minutes of a game, according to the Associated Press.
The Phoenix game also saw a big outing off the bench from veteran Mike Miller, who was 5-of-6 from three-point range and scored 21 to channel some of his old magic.
Having Conley and Miller step up now will take pressure off Zach Randolph, making Memphis much less of a one-dimensional team than it was for most of the season.
Charlotte has qualified for the playoffs for just the second time in its 10-year history and will likely finish as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, setting up a likely series with Miami.
The Bobcats were swept in four games by the Heat this season, but the playoffs have a way of bringing fresh starts. Granted, Charlotte's roster wouldn't really know, since its most "veteran" postseason participant is reserve guard Gary Neal, who appeared in 41 playoff games with San Antonio from 2011-13.
Only Al Jefferson and Luke Ridnour have ever started a playoff game, combining for 11 starts. And Ridnour's appearance was in 2005.
But Charlotte isn't riding that just-happy-to-be here vibe, with Jefferson telling the Associated Press, "We don't want to get to the playoffs and get swept," after the Bobcats clinched on April 5.
While the matchup against Miami won't be ideal—especially if LeBron James decides to drop another 61 on the Bobcats like in their last matchup—it also will be one where Charlotte's not expected to do much. All the pressure will be on the defending NBA champions, and all it takes is one early upset to up that pressure to critical, momentum-swinging levels.
An NBA where both Charlotte and Washington are in the playoffs and the likes of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers are not is the reality we face this year.
Even more hard to imagine is that a Wizards team that averaged 23.4 wins over the previous five seasons has a very good shot to win its first playoff series since 2005.
The team that's been slowly built around point guard John Wall has finally achieved success, doing so with veteran leadership in the form of Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat, Al Harrington, Andre Miller and Nene. Unlike Charlotte, which lacks much playoff experience, many Wizards players have been in the postseason before and can tap into that knowledge.
Nene's return from a sprained knee adds an extra element to Washington's attack, one that won't be as reliant on Wall to do everything. Though sitting intermittently, in his three games back Nene has scored 45 points in 61 minutes and made 20 of 32 field-goal attempts.
Washington will likely end up as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, opening against No. 3 Toronto. The Raptors took three of four during the season, but the Wizards won the last game 134-129 in triple overtime without Nene. The victory came during a six-game win streak that really began to define this team's desire to make the playoffs.
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