Preview capsules for the NBA’s 1st-round playoff series


No. 1 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (58-24) vs. No. 8 MIAMI HEAT (44-38)

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Story line: The Bucks, with the best record in the league, open against the team who knocked them off last time they were the No. 1 overall seed. Miami beat Milwaukee in five games in the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals after the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World. The Bucks avenged that defeat by sweeping the Heat in the first round of the 2021 playoffs en route to the the NBA title.

Key matchup: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Jimmy Butler. Butler was getting the better of Antetokounmpo, the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year that season, in the 2020 series before the Greek Freak missed the final game with an ankle injury. Butler remains a clutch postseason performer, but it’s rare anyone outplays Antetokounmpo now.

Prediction: Bucks in 6.

No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (57-25) vs. No. 7 ATLANTA HAWKS (41-41)

Season series: Celtics, 3-0.

Story line: The Celtics begin a bid for a second straight trip to the NBA Finals, this time under Joe Mazzulla. Last year’s appearance, also coming out of the No. 2 seed, came under Ime Udoka before losing to Golden State. The Celtics beat Miami in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals, but a rematch this year in the first round was prevented when the Hawks beat the Heat in the play-in tournament to take the No. 7 seed.

Key matchup: Derrick White and Marcus Smart vs. Trae Young. A year after Smart was voted Defensive Player of the Year, White is the guard the Celtics touted this time for the All-Defensive team. Both figure to take turns on Young, who averaged 26.2 points and 10.2 assists before scoring 25 points Tuesday in the play-in victory.

Prediction: Celtics in 5.

No. 3 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (54-28) vs. No. 6 BROOKLYN NETS (45-37)

Season series: 76ers, 4-0.

Story line: Joel Embiid, James Harden and Doc Rivers are looking to deliver Philadelphia’s first NBA title in 40 years and first conference finals trip since 2001. Give the Nets tons of credit for getting here. The season started with Steve Nash as coach and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant as the go-to players; it ended with Jacque Vaughn as coach and Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Spencer Dinwiddie as the go-to guys.

Key matchup: Embiid vs. Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton. There’s no stopping Embiid, but Claxton has to keep him in some short of check.

Prediction: 76ers in 5.

No. 4 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (51-31) vs. No. 5 NEW YORK KNICKS (47-35)

Season series: Knicks, 3-1.

Story line: A matchup of teams that had great regular seasons and now are looking for a breakthrough, along with what could be a chance to take on Milwaukee in the second round. Julius Randle’s health will be a key for New York as he returns from an ankle sprain, and Cleveland has tons of size to pack the lane and make the Knicks’ star work for everything he gets. The Knicks have won all three previous playoff series against Cleveland (first-rounders in 1996, 1995 and 1978).

Key matchup: Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell vs. New York’s Jalen Brunson. This one was easy. A matchup of elite point guards who led their teams in scoring in the season series. Mitchell averaged 31.8 points vs. the Knicks, Brunson 25.3 points vs. the Cavaliers.

Prediction: Knicks in 6.



Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Story line: The Nuggets have the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the first time and perhaps more importantly have their health after being forced to play without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. last year when they lost to Golden State in five games in the first round. The Timberwolves also lost in the first round in 2022 and try again for their first series victory since reaching the 2004 Western Conference finals.

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Rudy Gobert. The Timberwolves paid a huge price last summer to acquire Gobert, long one of the best defensive centers in the league. But even the best defenders have their hands full with Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP who had 29 triple-doubles and nearly averaged one for the season, finishing with 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists.

Prediction: Nuggets in 6.

No. 2 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (51-31) vs. No. 7 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (43-39)

Season series: Lakers, 2-1.

Story line: After overcoming injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have won 10 of their last 12 games, capped by an overtime victory over Minnesota on Tuesday in the play-in tournament. Now they will have to win at least once in Memphis, where Ja Morant and the Grizzlies went 35-6, the best record by an NBA team since the Golden State Warriors were 36-5 in 2016-17.

Key matchup: Jaren Jackson Jr. vs. Davis. Jackson led the NBA in blocked shots and is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll need to use all his skills against Davis, who had dominant stretches after returning in late January from a right foot stress injury.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 7.


Season series: Warriors, 3-1.

Story line: The defending champion Warriors taking on a Kings franchise that finally made it back to the playoffs, a battle for Northern California supremacy. The Kings led the league in scoring this season and have a slew of players with playoff experience. The Warriors, well, they’re the Warriors — seeking a fifth title in nine years.

Key matchup: Golden State’s Stephen Curry vs. Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox. Everybody knows what Curry is capable of on this stage. Fox now gets his moment after a strong regular season.

Prediction: Warriors in 7.

No. 4 PHOENIX SUNS (45-37) vs. No. 5 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (44-38)

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Story line: Kevin Durant was brought to Phoenix to help deliver a title, and now it’s time to see what he can do alongside Devin Booker and Chris Paul — who is still seeking his first ring. The Clippers expect to be without Paul George to start the series, which is another edge for the Suns.

Key matchup: Durant vs. the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard. A finals rematch of sorts from the Golden State-Toronto matchup in 2019, where Durant got injured and Leonard led the Raptors to the title. Elite scorer vs. elite defender.

Prediction: Suns in 6.


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