It’s no secret that the playoffs are where real basketball begins. No skilled athlete can hold up for 82 regular season NBA games—plus travel and injuries and personal tribulations (puppies, girlfriends, etc.)—and play every second at 100-percent-full-tilt boogie. But in the playoffs, everybody does. Because it’s now-or-never.

And that’s why it’ s the best sports-watching time of the year. Individual stats don’t mean a thing, because if your team doesn’t advance, your stats—and you—don’t exist. All focus is on the winning teams, and even role players dwarf the superstars who have been left behind on the losers’ heap.

There’s no more secret tanking for clubs, nor resting guys who look good in their business suits but who really ought to be performing for their paychecks. Why, even the sneaky Spurs are sure to dress everyone come playoff time! The 2-2-1-1-1 format makes home court a little less advantageous than the old 2-3-2 playoff setup, but, let me tell you, as a sportswriter, I have found that flying via commercial plane from, say, Oakland to Cleveland and back—even one time—is mind- and soul-deadening. Of course, players have nice, comfy team jets these days and probably don’t even know which city they’re in half the time. Their legs are long, their fouls are hard, and they deserve some amenities and forgetfulness. Just thinking back to the days when they flew commercially, like us unworthy scribes, is plenty bizarre.

It’s true no No. 8 seed has ever won an NBA title, but the 1999 Knicks did make it to the Finals. And only the Bulls have never lost in the Finals (six times). But things can change. That’s the beauty of it. League nuts can even dream that some day the Knicks will be relevant to the sport again, not just a team Patrick Ewing once played for. And how about the Nets in the Finals? Haha! Oh boy. But you can say it, right?

The playoffs are magic. Say anything.

Photos via Getty Images