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NBA PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

Overview of Eastern Conference playoffs

Point guard Kyle Lowry will play a key role in Toronto’s opening series with Brooklyn.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Point guard Kyle Lowry will play a key role in Toronto’s opening series with Brooklyn.

1. Indiana Pacers (56-26) vs. 8. Atlanta Hawks (38-44)

This is a more difficult matchup than it appears because the Hawks can be tough to defend when they are converting 3-pointers, and they have the best shooter in the league in Kyle Korver. Also, the Pacers haven’t had success in Atlanta over the years, so this won’t be a sweep. The Hawks rank second in 3-point attempts and coach Mike Budenholzer’s style is to spread the floor and launch long-range shots. The Pacers, however, have superior talent in Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert and they seemed to return to form last week against Oklahoma City after a disastrous March. The Hawks won’t win this series, but they should win Game 3 in Atlanta and maybe steal another. It will be a good workout for the Pacers in preparation for the second round.

Prediction: Pacers in five

SCHEDULE

Continue reading below

Sat., Apr. 19 at Indiana7

Tue., Apr. 22 at Indiana7

Thu., Apr. 24 at Atlanta7

Sat., Apr. 26 at Atlanta2

(if necessary)

Mon., Apr. 28 at Indiana8

Thu., May 1 at AtlantaTBA

Sat., May 3 at IndianaTBA

4. Chicago Bulls (48-34) vs. 5. Washington Wizards (44-38)

The Bulls are the team nobody wants to face down the road because of their physicality and defense, but Washington may be up to the challenge because of its balance. As the Celtics learned this season, the Wizards have a trio of perimeter scorers in the rejuvenated Trevor Ariza, prized second-year guard Bradley Beal, and the improved John Wall. The Bulls can’t score (last in the league with 93.7 points per game) but they can defend and ugly up the game. Without Derrick Rose (hurt) and Luol Deng (traded) the Bulls aren’t the same team, and the Wizards are young and hungry. Also, Washington has two legitimate centers in Nene and Marcin Gortat who can deal with Bulls interior defenders Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. While Chicago will leave opponents with bruises and bumps from its physical play, the Bulls don’t have enough talent to beat a more athletic team. The Wizards are ready to make a playoff impact after a five-year absence, having been packed with enough depth to overcome the Bulls.

Prediction: Wizards in six

SCHEDULE

Sun., Apr. 20 at Chicago7

Tue., Apr. 22 at Chicago9:30

Fri., Apr. 25 at Washington8

Sun., Apr. 27 at Washington1

(if necessary)

Tue., Apr. 29 at ChicagoTBA

Thu., May 1 at WashingtonTBA

Sat., May 3 at ChicagoTBA

2. Miami Heat (54-28) vs. 7. Charlotte Bobcats (43-39)

The Heat didn’t dominate the regular season like in years past, winning 12 fewer games than the year before, but they remain the favorite to reach the Finals because of their talent and experience. That should be more than enough to prevail in this series, although former Celtic Al Jefferson will have something to say about a Miami sweep. The Heat are one of the best home teams in the NBA, while most of the Bobcats roster has never experienced the playoff atmosphere. It’s really asking too much for the Bobcats to make this competitive. The only issue for the Heat will be how to defend Jefferson, who averaged 25.3 points and 15.3 rebounds against Miami this season. With a healthy Dwyane Wade, a rested LeBron, and a solid supporting cast, polishing off the Bobcats shouldn’t be a major issue as long as they don’t enter the series overconfident.

Prediction: Heat in five

SCHEDULE

Sun., Apr. 20 at Miami3:30

Wed., Apr. 23 at Miami7

Sat., Apr. 26 at Charlotte7

Mon., Apr. 28 at Charlotte7

(if necessary)

Wed., Apr. 30 at MiamiTBA

Fri., May 2 at CharlotteTBA

Sun., May 4 at MiamiTBA

3. Toronto Raptors (48-34) vs. 6. Brooklyn Nets (44-38)

It’s good for the Raptors and coach Dwane Casey to get this type of exposure since TNT and ESPN refuse to broadcast games from Toronto. What fans will see from the Raptors is a pretty skilled bunch that has athleticism and a legitimate big man in Jonas Valanciunas. He faces the tough task of opposing Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee. Kyle Lowry would have probably made the All-Star team had he played in any other market, but he’ll have an opportunity to display his skills against Deron Williams on the grandest stage. The Nets were one of the league’s better teams after Jan. 1 but the question is whether they can deal with Toronto’s athleticism, and how much Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Williams have left for a grueling series. Toronto has home-court advantage and the Raptors’ fans, who have not watched a home playoff game in six years, will be plenty motivated. Toronto will show it’s more than just a crew of athletes who capitalized on a poor conference.

Prediction: Raptors in seven

SCHEDULE

Sat., Apr. 19 at Toronto12:30

Tue., Apr. 22 at Toronto7:30

Fri., Apr. 25 at Brooklyn7

Sun., Apr. 27 at Brooklyn7

(if necessary)

Wed., Apr. 30 at TorontoTBA

Fri., May 2 at BrooklynTBA

Sun., May 4 at TorontoTBA

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.
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