NBA Playoffs

NBA Playoffs: Possible matchups and expert predictions

If you’re a non-NBA fan, the end of the regular season can be uninteresting, but it’s not. It’s very important. The playoffs are when the players enter a whole new level of basketball. Everyone is playing for something more than just wins, they are playing to win championships. The teams on top of their conferences are looking to finish strong and enter the playoffs on top. The teams in the middle of their conferences are fighting for their playoff lives and trying to get that coveted eighth spot for a chance at the NBA finals. And if you ask any of those teams in contention for that last spot, even though they may not say it, deep down they believe “Why not us?”.

It all starts with the first round of the playoffs where one team is eliminated before getting a chance to play for that championship. But before we get into predictions, let’s look at some possible matchups we may see next month in each conference.

The NBA Playoffs are set. Here is everything you need to know about the postseason picture, including possible matchups and predictions from our experts.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 1 SEED — MILWAUKEE BUCKS (60-22)

The Bucks were 43-7 on Feb. 4, but they have gone 17-15 since then as Giannis Antetokounmpo missed eight games because of a right knee sprain and two games for rest down the stretch. The Bucks have now dropped four straight regular-season games for the first time in coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure with the team. They will hope to avoid extending that streak to five Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers in their season finale.

The Bucks will be the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time since 2001. They would have clinched home-court throughout the East playoffs before tipoff Wednesday if Miami failed to beat Washington earlier in the evening.

NO. 2 SEED — TORONTO RAPTORS (58-24)

Toronto was one game behind Milwaukee at 42-16 on Feb. 15, but it went 16-8 over its final 24 games as Kawhi Leonard played limited minutes over that stretch because

With the first round of the playoffs starting this weekend, here’s a look at the matchups and our experts’ predictions:

Conference semifinals

No. 1 Cleveland vs. No. 5 Indiana

The defending champs will have their hands full with the Pacers — but so would any team that meets them in the first round. After an inconsistent regular season, Paul George has been playing at an MVP level, averaging 34 points on 55 percent shooting in the past 10 games. The Cavaliers are 2-1 against Indiana this season — a record that doesn’t reflect how good and dangerous these Pacers are right now. Heading into a showdown with LeBron James & Co., they’re peaking at just the right time.

Prediction: Cavs in 6

No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 3 Miami

The Raptors and Heat split their four-game season series, but Toronto is still seeking its first playoff series victory over Miami since 2001 — when Vince Carter was leading the charge for a Raptors team that was swept by Allen Iverson’s Sixers in the conference finals. Miami’s experience (Udonis Haslem is the only player on either team to win an NBA title) could tip the scales in this series, as could its ability to neutralize Kyle Lowry with Gor

The NBA playoffs are here. After the regular season ended in thrilling fashion, the 16-team field is set.

The Warriors will be looking to become the first team to three-peat since the Lakers did it from 2000-02, but they’ll have plenty of competition. The Bucks and Raptors are among the favorites to win it all, while stars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo are eager to make a title run this year. We polled our experts — more than 50 reporters, insiders and editors — for their predictions and picks on each series and the eventual champion.

Here’s how our panel sees the first round playing out.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks (60-22) vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons (41-41)

No. 2 Toronto Raptors (58-24) vs. No. 7 Orlando Magic (42-40)

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers (51-31) vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets (42-40)

No. 4 Boston Celtics (49-33) vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers (48-34)

Warriors vs. Rockets: Can the Warriors’ supporting cast outlast Houston’s? The marquee matchup of the second round is finally here. The Rockets’ James Harden and Chris Paul will try to stop Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Draymond Green and the Warriors’ roster of two-way players will try to contain Houston’s bevy of shooters and playmakers. And Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr, two offensive innovators, will go head to head in a battle of wits. Who will prevail in this heavyweight bout?

The Spurs enter the postseason following their most turbulent regular season since 1997-98. Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury stole headlines all year long, but San Antonio stayed afloat with a 40-29 record thanks to contributions from LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and rookie Dejounte Murray. Gregg Popovich’s crew has an opportunity to steal the show if Leonard can return for versus Golden State or Houston. Our experts make their picks.

The start of the NBA playoffs is nearly here, and there’s plenty of intrigue.

Here’s what you need to know:

The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers have looked like anything but a team that can make a third straight Finals appearance lately, losing 10 of their past 14. On the bright side, they’ll be able to rest LeBron James over the final few games of the season, which could help them get back on track. They’ll be hard-pressed to beat either Boston or Toronto in a seven-game series, though they could have an edge against Washington. Then again, as LeBron said when his team was struggling in late March, “I’m not going to hit the panic button.” So you probably shouldn’t either.

The Warriors are clicking at just the right time heading into their third straight postseason with home-court advantage throughout, but it will be particularly important this time around because Stephen Curry (MCL) isn’t expected to return until mid-May at the earliest. That might mean Golden State won’t be able to wrap up any potential series on its home floor. Still, if Kevin Durant is playing at his MVP level and Draymond Green keeps doing his thing, it’s hard to see anyone in the West taking down this squad – even

Who should you fear? Who should you target? And who has the edge when it comes to a potential Finals matchup? We asked our experts for their predictions on the second round.

(5) Boston Celtics vs. (1) Milwaukee Bucks

East playoff picks: Bucks in 5 | Celtics in 6 | Bucks in 7 | BUCKS WIN SERIES 4-1

Key stat: The only time the Bucks lost to the Celtics this season was when Kyrie Irving scored 37 points and had 11 assists. In the other three games, Boston scored 110, 94 and 89 points — all losses.

The series turned when … Brook Lopez defended Al Horford in the pick-and-roll, allowing him to stay on the floor as a stretch threat, even without Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court.

What will determine who wins … Can Eric Bledsoe rebound from his poor Game 5 with an improved performance against Terry Rozier (who had 21 points and 11 assists Saturday)? Will Kethan Walker’s refusal to back down against Antetokounmpo continue to pay dividends? And can Horford handle Lopez’s size and length? — Tim Bontemps

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