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NBA 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 easily posted the league's best record to earn the top seed from the Eastern Conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder held off the San Antonio Spurs 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.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22) vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets (45-37) -- Oklahoma City is hoping to take things a step further this year after losing to Miami in last year's finals, but it'll enter the playoffs without James Harden, a key component in last year's run who went on to have a career year in Houston this season. Now, he'll meet his old team in the first round of the playoffs.

Kevin Durant rested and didn't make a final push to challenge Carmelo Anthony's scoring title; he was more concerned about being ready for the playoffs. Russell Westbrook had another dynamic year for the Thunder.

Harden and Jeremy Lin lead one of the most relentless offensive attacks in the NBA. Harden has been among the league's top scorers all season, and the Rockets rank among the league's highest-scoring teams.

Oklahoma City won the season series 2-1.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers (45-37) -- This series features a pair of aging teams. San Antonio's Manu Ginobili has been struggling with a hamstring injury, and Tony Parker has been battling with an injured left ankle. Tim Duncan, though steady, is coming up on his 37th birthday (April 25). Still, San Antonio challenged for the top seed in the West until late in the season.

The Lakers will be without Kobe Bryan, sidelined due to a torn Achilles tendon, but Los Angeles still boasts significant playoff experience and star power with Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Los Angeles earned the seventh seed in the postseason by winning its final five games -- the last two of them after Bryant was injured.

The Spurs won two of three meetings in the regular season, though Los Angeles earned a 91-86 win over San Antonio on Sunday.

No. 3 Denver Nuggets (57-25) vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (47-35) -- This series should be a track meet. Denver has been one of the surprise teams in the league this season, becoming a dynamic squad despite a lack of star power. The No. 3 team in the West didn't have a single All-Star. One of the closest things the Nuggets have to a marquee player, Danilo Gallinari, is out for the season with a torn left ACL. Denver has continued to play well, going 5-1 without him. Ty Lawson has picked up some of the scoring.

Golden State's Stephen Curry is capable of scoring in bunches. He caught the nation's attention by scoring 54 points at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, and he broke the record for the most 3-pointers in a season. David Lee also is having an outstanding season for the Warriors, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Denver won the season series 3-1.

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies (56-26) -- The Clippers get their chance to step out of the Lakers' imposing shadow. With Chris Paul lobbing to Blake Griffin and a host of other dunkers, the Clippers are a team to watch, not only in Los Angeles but in the league overall.

The Grizzlies counter with one of the league's best defensive teams. Memphis forward Zach Randolph has emerged as one of the league's best players, and point guard Mike Conley has been a solid floor general and tough defender who is good enough to make Paul work.

The Clippers won the season series 3-1.

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