Don't sleep on East dark horses

Despite East's season-long ineptitude, a couple of Cinderellas could surprise

Updated: March 18, 2014, 1:33 PM ET
By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider

LowryRichard Lautens/Getty ImagesKyle Lowry has elevated the Raptors' offense, complementing the team's stalwart D.

It's Cinderella season in basketball. The NCAA tournament officially tips off on Tuesday and as the world frantically tries to figure out where the shoe fits, let's turn our attention to the pro ranks.

We should probably point out that Cinderella rarely makes a cameo in the NBA for two reasons. First, Cinderella has to win only one game in the NCAA to advance; in the NBA, it takes four just to move on. Luck only gets you so far in the pros.

Second, it's hard to sneak up on anybody when there's 82 games worth of data at our disposal. From a minutes perspective, a 34-game college basketball season with shorter games is the equivalent to the NBA season wrapping up after 28 games, or a little more than a fourth of an NBA season. And some of those 34 college games can come against far lesser competition, which waters down what we "know" about a team.

But with that said, there are still some teams that could surprise folks in the NBA playoffs. You won't find the Cinderella in the loaded Western Conference (every playoff team is a Goliath), but the East is a different story. As the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers struggle here down the stretch, the gap that separates them and the rest of the conference has shrunk.

With about a month left before the regular season wraps up, here are two dark horses in the Eastern Conference who people may be snoozing on.