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A guide to the NBA playoffs match ups


No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (53-29) vs. No. 8 ATLANTA HAWKS (43-39)

Season series: Heat, 3-1.

Story line: Miami added Kyle Lowry to the mix last summer, pairing him with Jimmy Butler and an array of shooters. So far, so good. Atlanta already have won a pair of Game 7-type games, topping Charlotte and then winning at Cleveland in the play-in tournament to earn the No.8 seed.

Key matchup: Lowry vs. Trae Young. Atlanta’s point guard is explosive and showed last season that the postseason lights aren’t too bright for him. Lowry has the savvy of a point guard who has led his team to a championship and the Heat need that poise.

Prediction: Heat in 6.

No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (51-31) vs. No. 7 BROOKLYN NETS (44-38)

Season series: Celtics, 3-1.

Story line: Boston and Brooklyn meet for the second straight season, though with opposite seedings. The Celtics shook off a rough start and surged to the Atlantic Division title behind Jayson Tatum’s scoring and a rock-solid defence, while the Nets are a dangerous team with the explosive scoring of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Key matchup: Marcus Smart vs. Irving. Irving can get hot as quickly as anybody with his ballhandling and deep shooting. But in Smart, the Celtics have one of the league’s toughest defensive guards.

Prediction: Celtics in 7.

No. 3 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (51-31) vs. No. 6 CHICAGO BULLS (46-36)

Season series: Bucks, 4-0.

Story line: The defending champion Bucks play their closest rival, with Milwaukee and Chicago separated by only about 90 miles. Reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo found a new level in last season’s playoffs. The Bulls were 28-15 when the Bucks’ Grayson Allen took out Chicago’s Alex Caruso on a play at the rim, causing the Bulls guard to break his wrist. They went 18-21 the rest of the way.

Key matchup: Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton vs. Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan. Both are good enough to simply take over games on their own, and the Bulls need DeRozan to be great in this series to have a chance.

Prediction: Bucks in 5.

No. 4 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (51-31) vs. No. 5 TORONTO RAPTORS (48-34)

Season series: Raptors, 3-1.

Story line: Philadelphia won’t have standout defender Matisse Thybulle available for games in Toronto because of his vaccination status. The Raptors don’t have someone who can stop Joel Embiid but Philly’s big man might have to be exceptional in this series. Raptors coach Nick Nurse proved during Toronto’s run to the 2019 title that he’s not afraid to take risks.

Key matchup: Philadelphia’s James Harden vs. Toronto’s Fred VanVleet. They are the dominant guards and they will likely dictate how things go for both clubs.

Prediction: Raptors in 7.


No. 1 PHOENIX SUNS (64-18) vs. No. 8 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (36-46).

Season series: Suns, 3-1.

Story line: After the best regular season in franchise history and by far the best one in the league this season, the Suns are again searching for their first NBA title. They were two wins away last season before Milwaukeerallied with four straight wins. Willie Green was an assistant to Monty Williams on that Suns team before becoming the coach of the Pelicans.

Key matchup: Devin Booker and Chris Paul vs. Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado. The Pelicans will try a pair of rookies in hopes of slowing the Suns’ All-Star backcourt. New Orleans didn’t stop much of anyone against Phoenix this season, with the Suns averaging 117 points on 51 per cent shooting.

Prediction: Suns in 5.


Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Story line: A pair of great stories collide in Round 1. Memphis’ season defied most expectations and it wasn’t just Ja Morant all the time, either. The Grizzlies were great for long stretches even without him. The Timberwolves started 4-9 and were still under .500 in mid-January, but have been flying ever since.

Key matchup: Morant vs. Minnesota’s Patrick Beverley. A budding superstar vs. a veteran pest, and Beverley wears that title with pride.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 6.

No. 3 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (53-29) vs. No. 6 DENVER NUGGETS (48-34)

Season series: Nuggets, 3-1.

Story line: The current (and possibly repeat) MVP in Denver’s Nikola Jokic leads his team against former MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors. Curry is ready to go for Game 1, albeit on a minutes restriction as he returns from a foot injury. Denver had a fantastic season considering they were without Jamal Murray and, for much of the year, Michael Porter Jr. The Warriors have Klay Thompson set to finally appear in a playoff game again.

Key matchup: Jokic vs. Golden State’s Draymond Green. Elite offensive player vs. elite defender. Green will relish this challenge. So will Jokic.

Prediction: Warriors in 6.

No. 4 DALLAS MAVERICKS (52-30) vs. No. 5 UTAH JAZZ (49-33)

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Story line: Luka Doncic’s strained calf is the question for Dallas. Unclear if he’ll play in Game 1. The Jazz were 26-9 at one point this season but have looked mortal since and have lost seven of their last 11 games. Talent hasn’t been the question in Utah. Chemistry has, and what happens might say a lot about what Utah does going forward.

Key matchup: Dallas’ shooters vs. Utah’s Rudy Gobert. If Dallas don’t make 3’s, the Jazz will let one of the world’s best rim protectors in Gobert hang out around the basket and disrupt drives. If Dallas make shots, Gobert gets pulled away from the basket – a huge plus for the Mavs.

Prediction: If Doncic isn’t seriously injured, Mavericks in 7.

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