(Reuters) - The National Basketball Association conference semi-finals kick off later on Monday following one of the wildest and most exciting starts to the playoffs in years.
Led by LeBron James, Miami rebounded from a shaky end to the regular season to lift their game when it mattered.
They will open the series at home on Tuesday as overwhelming favorites to beat Brooklyn even though the Nets swept Miami in their four meetings during the regular season.
"Teams are more prepared," James told reporters when asked about his team's prospects of beating the Nets in the playoffs.
"You have more time to prepare for a team and prepare for individuals. What you did in the regular season doesn't matter in the postseason."
The top-seeded Pacers struggled in the first round against the eighth-ranked Atlanta Hawks, needing to win the last two games to advance after trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Indiana shooting guard Paul George said his team's tough first-round series was not what the team had really wanted but they made it through and it all starts against the Wizards.
"It's a process. Sweeping a team is a luxury, it's ideal but it's not going to happen sometimes," he said.
"Many teams have been drawn out to a Game 7 to start their playoff run off. It's one game at a time. That's what it comes down to."
The Wizards pulled off the biggest upset of the first round when they crushed the Chicago Bulls 4-1 and Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal said his team needs to be at their best against the Pacers.
"We'll be ready from the jump. Hopefully they'll be pretty tired," Beal said. "We've got to get off to a pretty good start against them because we know what they're capable of doing."
Last season's Western Conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs, face the Portland Trail Blazers starting on Tuesday.
The veteran Spurs, with all their big-game experience, are favorites to beat the Trail Blazers, who are reveling in their role as underdogs after reaching the second round for the first time since 2000.
"Anytime you win, you're going to get confidence," Portland small forward Wes Matthews said. "To win in the fashion that we did, where the games were always tight and nothing was safe, we learned a lot.
"I think that was a learning process for everybody about how valuable all these possessions were and how fragile it could be and a wrong bounce could send you to a Game 7 that you don't want to be in. Now, I don't think there's a limit."
(Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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