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NBA Playoffs First Round: Previewing the opening matchups

Scott Levin's picture

With the NBA's abbreviated 66-game regular season now complete, the true competition begins as 16 teams vie for the championship.

Falling in line with the rest of the season, there is little time to relax for those that qualified. Playoff games begin Saturday and Sunday. Here are this season's opening round matchups.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers

The Bulls, despite playing without star guard Derrick Rose for much of the final month, earned homecourt advantage throughout the entire playoffs, including the NBA Finals if they reach. The 76ers, led in scoring by reserve Lou Williams, started the season hot but enter the postseason looking quite average. They'll face an uphill battle if they want to upset Chicago, who took the season series, 2-1.

No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 New York Knicks

It's championship-or-bust for the Heat, and the first domino in their way will be their old rival. Miami took down the Knicks in all three regular season meetings, but New York comes in playing much basketball, having won three straight. All eyes will be on LeBron James, and what better venue than Madison Square Garden?

No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Orlando Magic

The Pacers have been a surprise success story this season, and they luck out in round one. Orlando will be without Dwight Howard, making their 3-1 season series victory over Indiana a bit of a misnomer. All five starters for the Pacers averaged double-figures in scoring, and the team hopes a balanced attack will take them far in the playoffs.

No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

Early in the season, it appeared the Celtics older roster may be out of time. But Boston finished the season strong and now hopes their veterans have one more run. Atlanta will still be without prized big man Al Horford, meaning Joe Johnson and Josh Smith will again have to carry the load. The Celtics took the season series, 2-1.

Western Conference

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz

The scrappy Jazz are back in the postseason after a two-year hiatus and their prize is tough matchup with the 50-16 Spurs. San Antonio has been prepping for the playoffs for months, resting its veteran stars throughout the condensed season. The Spurs took three of four from Utah during the regular season, but the Jazz won the last meeting and have won five straight overall.

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

The defending champs aren't your typical No. 7 seed, but the low ranking gives them a rough opening round opponent. The Thunder took the season series from Dallas, 3-1, and scoring champion Kevin Durant is on a mission to bring a title to Oklahoma City. The Mavs come in sputtering, but they are playoff-tested and will surely battle the Thunder.

No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

The absence of Metta World Peace, while noticeable, is not a crushing blow to the Lakers first-round chances. They play Denver, the highest scoring team in the NBA and a squad the Lakers beat three out of four times during the regular season. Wilson Chandler's injury hurts the Nuggets, who could have used any swingman help they could get to throw at Kobe Bryant.

No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers

Perhaps making up the best first-round matchup, the Grizzlies, who beat the Clippers 2-1 in the season series, topped L.A. by one game to earn homecourt in this duel. Memphis has won six straight games and hopes that a re-integrated Zach Randolph and healthy Rudy Gay propels them deeper than last year's Western Conference Finals run. Banged up guard Chris Paul is expected to play for the Clippers, and few players rise to the occasion of the playoffs quite like Paul.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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