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Eastern Conference first-round playoff matchups

The SportsXchange

The Miami Heat charge into the playoffs a prohibitive favorite to retain their NBA championship.

Finishing the regular season with eight consecutive wins, the Heat (66-16) easily posted the league's best record to earn the top seed from the Eastern Conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder (61-21) held off the San Antonio Spurs (59-23) to grab the top seed in the West.

A capsule look at the first-round playoff series:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Miami Heat (66-16) vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks (37-45) -- Even having their stars sit out recent games didn't derail the Heat, whose .805 winning percentage dwarfed the team's .697 regular-season success rate in the shortened 2011-12 campaign.

LeBron James is the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive MVP trophy and his fourth in five seasons. His supporting cast is deeper than just Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as proven by the team's success in recent weeks while Wade and James have been in and out of the lineup.

The Bucks are the only team to make the playoffs this season despite a losing record. Milwaukee lost three of four to Miami, winning once at home and pushing the Heat to overtime in a November road defeat.

No. 2 New York Knicks (54-28) vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics (41-40) -- There was plenty of bad blood during the season involving New York's Carmelo Anthony and proud Celtics veteran center Kevin Garnett. Their altercation during a January game went beyond the court when Anthony went searching for Garnett afterward.

Normally, a No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup wouldn't be so interesting, but Boston has won at least one playoff series for five straight years. Boston has rallied since losing point guard Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL in January.

No. 3 Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks (44-38) -- Indiana has fallen into a rut, losing five of six and slipping after being in the running for the No. 2 seed. Indiana has earned the No. 3 seed despite last year's top scorer, Danny Granger, missing the entire season with a knee injury.

Paul George, a first-time All-Star this season, leads Indiana in scoring. Roy Hibbert, an All-Star in 2012, is a 7-foot-2 defensive enforcer. The versatile Josh Smith leads the Hawks in scoring. Al Horford averaged a double-double and is one of the league's top rebounders.

The Pacers and Hawks split their season series 2-2.

No. 4 Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls (45-37) -- The Nets are feeling good after gaining home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in their first year since moving from New Jersey. Brooklyn closed the season by winning six of seven.

Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have provided plenty of scoring for the Nets. Chicago has been hoping former MVP guard Derrick Rose would return this season, but he continues to recover from a torn ACL.

The Bulls won the regular-season series 3-1.

The Western Conference matchups were to be finalized following Wednesday's late games.
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