With so much on the line, the pressure can be smothering. And with each possession, game and series the intensity increases to unmatched levels.
"It's 100 times what it is in the regular season," said Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.
Buckle up. It's here.
About to enter his fourth postseason, and this time fully confident he and his Cleveland teammates will finish what has been a season of seasons with the shiny Larry O'Brien Trophy in their grasp, James has learned the playoffs can turn the best of friends into the worst of enemies.
"You're playing the same team over and over," he said. "You start to hate that person, you're tired of seeing them every day. You have no reason why you hate them or don't like them, it's just seeing the same person and the same plays, you have to be really dialed in on what's going on."
So getting focused to play the Washington Wizards the past three years was a challenge?
"No," James said. "We really hated them."
The Cavaliers don't hold quite the same disdain for their first-round opponent this season, but they aren't friendly with their Michigan neighbors either.
The Cavs and Pistons, who will open their best-of-seven series today at Quicken Loans Arena, know each other inside and out. Central Division rivals, this is the third time in the past four years that they've met playoffs. With 66 regular-season wins -- and a sparkling 39-2 mark in their rowdy arena -- the Cavaliers enter as the No. 1 overall seed.
Like the Motor City itself, the No. 8 Pistons have fallen on hard times. At 39-43, they're the only team in the 16-team field with a losing record. On paper, it appears to be a major mismatch.
Scoring has been a problem all season for the Pistons, who never recovered from the trade that sent Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, now a highly paid spectator.
And unless coach Michael Curry, a Glenn Hills graduate, devises something unique, Detroit's predictable offense won't offer the Cavs any surprises.
"We know their personnel. We know what they like to do," Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "When they call a play, we already know what it's going to be."