The Nets are officially two-for-two when it comes to postseason appearances in Brooklyn. After the final day of the regular season determined their first-round opponent — the Raptors — the Nets will tip off in Toronto early Saturday afternoon. For more on the matchup, as well as the other seven playoff series, read on.
No. 1 Pacers vs. No. 8 Hawks
Game 1: 7 p.m. Sat. at Indiana
As bad as Indiana has played over the final weeks of this season, it’s hard to envision a first-round exit from the playoffs. The Pacers’ defense, led by Paul George and Roy Hibbert, is just too good to allow let Paul Millsap and company to run up the score on a consistent basis.
While Atlanta managed to extend this series to Game 6 in last year’s first round, this is an inferior Hawks collective to that one, especially with Al Horford still sidelined by injury. The Pacers will gain back some rhythm and win in five games.
No. 2 Heat vs. No. 7 Bobcats
Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Sun. at Miami
The woeful existence of the Charlotte Bobcats ends after the season when they become the Charlotte Hornets, but at least fans in Charlotte have a few more playoff games at which they can sport Cats gear. That’s about the only positive to take away from this series for Charlotte, which dropped all four meetings to the Heat during the regular season.
Simply put, this is the last team the Bobcats wanted to see in the first round. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all (relatively) healthy, but even if Wade still was hurt this would be a tall order for Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and their Charlotte teammates. The Cats will finally earn one postseason victory, but the Heat will advance in five.
No. 3 Raptors vs. No. 6 Nets
Game 1: 12:30 p.m. Sat. at Toronto
Even as the Nets dropped to the No. 6 seed, they fell into a relatively friendly matchup against the Raptors and avoided the gritty Bulls, who ousted the Nets a year ago. Toronto and Brooklyn split the season series and often played each other close. They’re also two of the hottest teams in the conference since Jan. 1.
Although the Raptors are the more athletic group, the Nets have plenty of postseason experience from which to draw. Shutting down high-scoring DeMar DeRozan will be key for the Nets, as will getting the most from Joe Johnson on offense. This one will go seven games, and most likely the Raptors will live to fight another day.
No. 4 Bulls vs. No. 5 Wizards
Game 1: 7 p.m. Sun. at Chicago
It may come as a surprise that the Wizards won two of the three games in this season series, although it was the Bulls who convincingly won the most recent matchup two weeks ago.
The Bulls’ elite defense should have one goal in mind — stop John Wall. Washington’s offense filters through him, and if the Bulls can create turnovers, the job is half done. Expect Joakim Noah — Chicago’s jack of all trades — to have quite a series as the Bulls move on in six games.
No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 8 Mavericks
Game 1: 1 p.m. Sun. at San Antonio
The Mavs are a fine team, and Dirk Nowitzki had a terrific season that proved he’s got plenty left in the tank after last year’s disappointment.
But, they have little chance of slowing down the Spurs. Tim Duncan’s crew ran roughshod over the NBA during the last few months of the season to reassert their dominance. Oh, and they haven’t lost to their in-state rivals in their last nine meetings. That streak figures to end, but San Antonio still will cruise into the conference semifinals in five games.
No. 2 Thunder vs. No. 7 Grizzlies
Game 1: 9:30 p.m. Sat. at Oklahoma City
Kevin Durant is playing on a level abovethe rest of the NBA this year. He’s the clear choice for MVP, and he’s likely to remember it was Memphis who bounced the Thunder from the postseason a year ago.
That’s bad news for the Grizz, who lost three out of four meetings against the Thunder during the regular season. And, as talented as Memphis is on the defensive end (third in points allowed per game), it allowed Durant to shoot .518 across four games this year. Expect OKC to earn some revenge for last year and win in six games.
No. 3 Clippers vs. No. 6 Warriors
Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Sat. at Los Angeles
The home team won each of the four regular-season games in this season series. If that holds, the Clips take this.
Don’t expect it to be that simple, though. Both teams know how to score, even if Golden State is the streakier squad. That inconsistency makes them hard to count on, but impossible to count out altogether. When Stephen Curry is on, there’s almost no stopping the Warriors. But the safe pick is for Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the gang to outgun their fellow California opponents and win a deciding Game 7 at Staples Center.
No. 4. Rockets vs. No. 5 Trail Blazers
Game 1: 9:30 p.m. Sun. at Houston
Although Portland fell off the pace after its hot start, the Blazers have been on a roll in April. Still, they face a tough opponent in Houston, which won the second-most games at home among Western Conference teams.
Both teams feature high-scoring offenses and some of the best rebounding in the NBA. The matchup in the middle between the Rockets’ Dwight Howard and the Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge should be fun to watch. Look for Aldridge to outshine his more celebrated counterpart as Portland should be good enough to overcome the lack of home-court edge and win in six tough games.