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NBA PM: Upset Potential This Year?

Could either 8-seed – the Pelicans or the Nets – pull off an upset in this year’s playoffs?

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How Likely Is A First-Round Upset?

One of the things that makes the NCAA Tournament so exciting is that it only takes a single win to advance to the next round. That has allowed some crazy things to happen in college basketball over the years, whereas the NBA has always held some sort of best-of series to determine which team would move on and that involves significantly fewer surprises.

In the first round, for example, teams seeded six through eight are very often considered to be target practice for the more dominant seeds at the top of the conference since, over the course of a typical seven-game series, the better team very often wins.

This year, though, there exists the potential for all sorts of crazy things to happen, as there is more parity in the Western Conference than there has been in recent memory and the Eastern Conference is generally so unimpressive that almost any team could pull off an upset and few people would be surprised.

Historically, though, the lowest seeds lose to the highest ones, though it’s worth noting that three of the five occurrences of 8-seeds topping 1-seeds have occurred in the last eight years.

For this current postseason, both 8-seeds have reasonable opportunities ahead of them to upset the top-ranked teams.

Brooklyn, for example, could take advantage of a massive loss of momentum for Atlanta, who enters the postseason coming off those odd arrests in New York for Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic, which resulted in Sefolosha experiencing a season-ending leg injury. Also, having clinched the Eastern Conference a couple of weeks ago, head coach Mike Budenholzer has been resting his star players, which could have them sluggish coming out of the gate.

Charles Barkley recently spoke about his Phoenix Suns doing something similar in 1993, then losing the first two games of the first round to the 8-seed L.A. Lakers. They, of course, weren’t the first good team to lose their mojo after a ho-hum end to the regular season, and the same could happen to Atlanta this spring if they don’t sharpen their game and re-find their momentum relatively quickly.

Those scenarios are all areas where the Hawks will have to fall short, however. None of them really speak as to how the Nets could actually beat them, but there are mismatches. Brook Lopez, most notably, is literally a huge matchup issue for the Atlanta bigs and could help establish some offensive success inside for Brooklyn if they’re able to properly take advantage of that size advantage.

Also, the Nets generally have more playoff experience than the Hawks, who have bowed out in the first round each of the last three seasons. While the Nets haven’t fared much better, there are players on this roster with lots of playoff games under their belts, and that could potentially be a factor in this series, as well.

In the West, the New Orleans Pelicans are not just some bum team that snuck into the bottom part of the playoff picture. These guys won 45 games in a truly tough conference behind a historic season from one of the top players in the NBA. Anthony Davis won’t get as many MVP votes as Stephen Curry, but he’s been a top-five player this past season and every bit of that team’s success has been fueled by his individual prowess. He’s a matchup nightmare for any team, but the frontcourt in Golden State is just not equipped to defend this guy. Davis could very well run roughshod all over the Warriors in this series.

Beyond that, the Pelicans are capable of hanging in there with Golden State in terms of three-point shooting if guys like Quincy Pondexter, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson catch fire. They weren’t anywhere near the volume of deep shots attempted by Golden State during the regular season, but the Pelicans were fourth in the league in three-point percentage this year (.370), which isn’t a whole lot worse than the Warriors, who topped the league at .398.

Is a monster like Davis and some timely three-point shooting enough to topple one of the best regular season teams in recent memory? It’s not impossible, and that’s the point; normally we’re looking at series like this as a waste of time. The New Orleans/Golden State series will be anything but that.

Brooklyn/Atlanta could be more interesting than some think, too. Two 8-seed upsets in one year is statistically improbable, but if there was ever a year it could happen, this would be the one.

Jerami Grant Hopes to Bulk Up This Summer

The Philadelphia 76ers went through 32 players this season. That’s a real number. Brett Brown had to coach 32 different guys over the course of 82 games, but one of the only players that was actually there from the start of the season to the end of it was rookie Jerami Grant, the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and nephew to former Chicago Bulls great Horace Grant.

Coming out Syracuse, Grant was looked upon by many as a potential first-round selection, but for whatever reason he slipped all the way to pick No. 39 last June. That, he admits, put a chip on his shoulder entering his rookie season in the City of Brotherly Love.

“That definitely was a lot more motivation for me,” Grant said. “I don’t think I should’ve been a second-round pick, and that was my mentality going into the season. Even though I got hurt in the beginning of the season and missed the preseason and 15 games, my whole mentality was I should’ve been a first-round pick, and that’s how I’m going to play.”

The numbers haven’t been staggering this season for Grant, but he was drafted as a defensive specialist and so far has done a pretty good job of establishing himself as an NBA defender.

“I think I’ve grown a lot on defense,” Grant said. “A lot of people had doubts because I played zone in Syracuse for two years, but I think coming out here I just got gradually better on the defensive end, whether it be moving my feet, blocking shots, staying in front of my man or guarding the best player. So I think throughout the season I got a lot better defensively. I think I proved a lot of people wrong.”

That said, Grant is the first to admit that the NBA game is a whole lot different from the college game. Even growing up with all the advice in the world from his father and uncle, the speed still came as something of a surprise to him.

“The speed of the game was the biggest shock,” Grant said. “Everything is a lot faster. It’s not like a workout; it’s not the same thing as you going into the gym shooting by yourself or with a couple people. The speed of the game is way faster than what you expect.”

That wasn’t the only adjustment for him, though. Physically, the lean Grant came into the league a little behind, as well.

“It is a way stronger game,” Grant said. “All the players are grown men, so just going out there you have to know where to be on the court and things like that. I definitely have to get stronger in the offseason.”

In other words, his offseason training regimen will include a lot of hours in the weight room. He wants to get better and prove that he’s a first-round value on a second-round contract. He’ll be one of the few Sixers next year with any sort of continuity from the season before, and he hopes that some consistency and an offseason of bulking up will help him get to where he wants to be as an NBA pro.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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