Tip-off for the NBA playoffs is just around the corner and defending champions Cleveland Cavaliers kickstart their finals campaign from the no.2 seed.
LeBron James and the Cavs face Paul George and the Pacers in the 2 v 7 Eastern Conference series while in the loaded Western Conference, last year's finalists no.1 seeds Golden State Warriors take on the no.8 Portland Trail Blazers.
Here's our preview of the Eastern and Western Conference's first round series:
(Playoff Teams: Boston, Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Indiana, Chicago)
(1) Boston v Chicago
Three straight wins at the end of the season was good enough for the Boston Celtics to seal the no.1 seed, setting up a first round showdown against Jimmy Butler and the Bulls.
MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas (pictured above) heads the Celtics charge against a Bulls team which has been up and down throughout the season.
The more consistent Celtics to come out on top here.
Correct score: 4-2
(2) Cleveland v (7) Indiana
The defending champions head into the 2017 playoffs on the back of a four-match losing streak dropping them to the no.2 seed.
Not that LeBron James and the Cavs are concerned or not, with the MVP candidate earlier this week declaring their seeding wasn’t important.
After convincing management to bolster their squad which saw the Cavs sign Deron Williams as the back-up point guard, the King is suitably content heading into another post-season.
Standing in the Cavs' way are Paul George and the Indiana Pacers, who can’t be discounted after finishing the regular season on a five-match winning streak.
Cavs though, have the depth and a well-rested LeBron will ensure they survive what looks to be a hard-fought series.
Correct score: Cleveland 4-3
(3) Toronto v (6) Milwaukee
After a lengthy period apart, dynamic Toronto backcourt buddies Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are back together and that spells danger for Milwaukee Bucks’ Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Aussie guard Matthew Dellavedova.
Lowry missed a significant chunk of the season with a wrist injury but with the pair reunited, the Bucks have will their work cut out keeping the pair quiet.
Delly is more than accustomed to the rigors and intensity of playoff basketball and he’ll prove more than a handful for the Raptors guards.
With homecourt advantage, Raptors won’t be extinct just yet.
Correct score: Toronto 4-2
(4) Washington v (5) Atlanta
John Wall (pictured above) and the Washington Wizards waved their magic wand to become the first team in NBA history to reach 15 games over .500 after starting the season at 2-8 or worse.
After nailing down the 4th seed, the Wizards face a team who produced their own magic act against the reigning NBA champions Cavaliers on Tuesday (AEDT).
Atlanta were down by 26 against the Cavs before a stunning 126-125 comeback win in OT. The Hawks are riding a big wave of momentum and that will carry them past the Wizards.
Correct score: Atlanta 4-2
(Playoff Teams: Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, LA Clippers, Utah, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Portland)
(1) Golden State v (8) Portand
Kevin Durant’s injury could end up being a blessing in disguise. Fresh and injury-free, the Warriors should make short work of Portland.
The Trail Blazers will again rely on prolific scoring guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum but they don’t have the depth to handle the star-studded Warriors.
Steve Kerr’s men to cruise their way into the conference semi-finals.
Tip: Golden State
Correct score: Golden State 4-1
(2) San Antonio v (7) Memphis
Aussie Patty Mills (pictured above) will lead the all-important second unit when the Spurs embark on another finals campaign.
Mills is Popovic’s trusted on-court leader with his starters are resting, and his spot up shooting from beyond the arc and pinpoint passing could tilt this series in the Spurs’ favour.
The Griz are always tough to beat in the grindhouse, so no doubt they’ll push the Spurs but Popovic’s men should be too good.
Tip: San Antonio
Correct score: San Antonio 4-2
(3) Houston v (6) Oklahoma City
When Russell Westbrook’s (pictured above) Thunder look to give Houston a problem, we’ll see two of the leading MVP candidates going head-to-head for MVP honours.
Westbrook and Rockets star James Harden each have strong cases for the award and both can pad their resume with an exclamation mark by leading their team into the conference semis.
Westbrook became just the second player in NBA history to average a triple double in the regular season while Harden has become the first player to average 25 points and create 25 points a game via assists.
The bearded one though, has a better support cast and the Rockets look poised to launch themselves into the next round.
Correct score: Houston 4-3
(4) Utah v (5) LA Clippers
Aussie star Joe Ingles (pictured above) has become one of the NBA’s leading sharpshooters from beyond the arc.
Averaging 36 per cent from downtown in his career, Ingles is third in the NBA in 3-point shooting this season at an impressive 44 per cent.
His pinpoint shooting from long range could play a big part in this 4 v 5 series against Blake Griffin and Chris Paul’s Clippers.
In stark contrast to last season, the Clippers’ big three are all healthy and playing good basketball, so the Jazz will need to hit a high note to steal this one.
Tip: LA Clippers
Correct score: LA Clippers 4-2
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