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NBA playoff preview: Team vs. Team

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers

Season series: 2-2.

Most intriguing matchup: The Pacers (November through January) vs. the Pacers (February through March): If this series could end in three games, it would, but unfortunately in this best-of-seven first-round meeting, the Pacers have to show they again can be the team that no one wanted to play before the All-Star break. That was a long time ago.

Prediction: Pacers in four.

(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat

Season series: 4-0 Heat.

Most intriguing matchup: Al Jefferson vs. Chris Bosh: “Big Al’’ scored 38 points and had 19 rebounds in their last meeting, and Bosh needs to play bigger than usual. Then again, ­LeBron James did score 61 in that Heat victory. It was a cute run, Bobcats.

Prediction: Heat in four.

(6) Nets vs.
(3) Raptors

Season series: 2-2.

Most intriguing matchup: Kyle Lowry vs. Deron Williams: The Nets wanted the Raptors, and Toronto had better take that personally. This series could come down to which point guard can control the pace of the game, but don’t doubt old-man strength with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Prediction: Nets in six.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(8) Mavericks vs.
(1) Spurs

Season series: 4-0 Spurs.

Most intriguing matchup: Spurs’ bench vs. Mavericks’ bench: Dallas is in for a long series because of its lack of depth. If Vince Carter and Devin Harris don’t have huge games for the Mavs on a nightly basis, get the tee times ready.

Prediction: Spurs in four.

(7) Grizzlies vs.
(2) Thunder

Season series: 3-1 Thunder.

Most intriguing matchup: Tayshaun Prince vs. Kevin Durant: This is a bad first-round matchup for the Thunder, especially with center Marc Gasol healthy. If Prince can use his length to slow down Durant, OKC could see a first-round exit.

Prediction: Thunder in seven.


(6) Warriors vs.
(3) Clippers

Season series: 2-2.

Most intriguing matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul: All eyes will be on how Blake Griffin handles the trash talk, but Curry and Paul are the hearts of their teams. Can Paul’s veteran defense stymie the best pure shot-maker in the game? This has all the makings of the best first-round series and also the end of Mark Jackson’s coaching tenure in the Bay Area.

Prediction: Clippers in six.

(5) Trail Blazers vs.
(4) Rockets

Season series: 3-1 Rockets.

Most intriguing matchup: Robin Lopez vs. Dwight Howard: The Trail Blazers have no answer for James Harden, and the Rockets have no one to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge. If Lopez’s defensive presence can force Howard into another disappearing act, Portland can steal this series.

Prediction: Rockets in seven.



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