OAKLAND • The Los Angeles Clippers began the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season an afterthought and ended it a surprise.
They now enter the post-season hoping for a similar result.
After 48 wins, the Clippers will face the two-time defending champions and top-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the play-offs, beginning with Game 1 tomorrow at the Oracle Arena.
Speaking after their 143-137 overtime victory over fifth seeds Utah Jazz on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers believes his eighth-seeded team can reprise their role as the Western Conference's upstarts as "it's a whole new season".
He added: "It's time to get going. Should we take that personal that the Warriors are the favourites?"
But, despite his fighting words, Rivers knows his players face an uphill task going into their contest with Golden State, who remain the clutch team in the play-offs.
Admitting they were comfortable with their tags as heavyweights against the Clippers, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose much-changed team lost 132-117 at the Memphis Grizzlies, told local daily The Mercury News that "just not having to change two time zones is a big deal".
He added: "I like the idea of staying in California. It's easier on everybody. Hopefully, we'll take advantage of that."
While most of the play-off spots had been locked up before Wednesday, there was still the matter of the final berth in the East up for grabs, which the Detroit Pistons seized with a 115-89 victory at the New York Knicks.
Their reward for reaching the post-season for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign will be a trip to the Milwaukee Bucks, the league's top seeds, on Sunday.
The conclusion of the regular season also saw the retirement of two NBA greats, Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade.
The former ended his 21-year career, pacing his team with 20 points as they went down to the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs 105-94.
And, for Wade's final NBA game, where else would his so-called "Banana Boat Crew" members be but on hand to see it?
NBA 2018-19 PLAY-OFFS
1 Milwaukee Bucks v 8 Detroit Pistons
2 Toronto Raptors v 7 Orlando Magic
3 Philadelphia 76ers v 6 Brooklyn Nets
4 Boston Celtics v 5 Indiana Pacers
1 Golden State Warriors v 8 LA Clippers
2 Denver Nuggets v 7 San Antonio Spurs
3 Portland Trail Blazers v 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
4 Houston Rockets v 5 Utah Jazz
Best-of-seven play-off series start tomorrow.
He called time on his 16-year career when his team travelled to sixth seed Brooklyn Nets and, among the spectators were his long-time friends and fellow stars LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.
Lakers forward James told TV network Fox Sports: "Listen, we all started this journey together. Obviously, CP came into the league a couple years after us, but we have a brotherhood that is just so much more than basketball.
"CP played last night, we had our last regular-season game last night, and Melo is right here in New York, so we kind of made the plan and made the decision to come up here."
The quartet often travel together during the summer and picked up the moniker "Banana Boat Crew" after photos of them riding in one circulated on social media in 2016.
Asked about favourite memories of his friendship with Wade, James, who won two NBA titles in Miami with his former teammate, said: "Everything we did was always genuine. There was always love and we always wanted the best for one another, no matter good or bad.
"It's been an unbelievable journey for my guy, and I'm happy to be here for the last little part of the road before the train comes to a stop." DPA,