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NBA playoff previews

EASTERN CONFERENCe

No. 2 Heat (54-28) vs. No. 7 Bobcats (43-39)

Season series: Heat 4-0.

Story line: Miami is not exactly rolling in its quest to win a third straight league title. The Heat didn't get the No. 1 seed in the East and has lost 14 of its past 25 games since that 61-point night by LeBron James. The Bobcats went 7-59 two years ago, 21-61 last year and more than doubled that win total this season, so they know there's no pressure on them.

Key matchup: LeBron James vs. Al Jefferson. They won't be guarding each other much, but Miami's star will have to keep the pressure on Charlotte's go-to guy. If Jefferson is held relatively in check, Miami would call that a huge win.

X-factor: Dwyane Wade. He missed about one-third of the season because of injuries and maintenance. He needs to be great for Miami to win it all, and he knows that.

No. 4 Bulls (48-34) vs. No. 5 Wizards (44-38)

Season series: Wizards 2-1.

Story line: Welcome to the matchup of surprises. The Bulls started 9-16, lost Derrick Rose to injury again, traded Luol Deng and seemed to be shutting down for the season. Someone forgot to tell the Bulls that part of the plan, and they finished with an East-best 36-16 record since Jan. 1. Washington made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, one of four teams from the Southeast Division to emerge.

Key matchup: Backcourt vs. Backcourt. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has a strong corps of guards with Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and D.J. Augustin. He'll need them all, and more, against Washington's John Wall and Bradley Beal.

X-factor: Taj Gibson. He can be a big spark off the bench, and the Bulls are a club that feasts off getting a bonus influx of energy every now and then.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Spurs (62-20) vs. No. 8 Mavericks (49-33)

Season series: Spurs 4-0.

Story line: The Spurs were 28.2 seconds away from the league title last year, but the Heat had other ideas. And while that stung the Spurs, it also seemed to invigorate an older team that went on to win 19 straight at one point this season. And poor Dallas: Win 49 games and still be a big first-round underdog.

Key matchup: Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki. They have been opponents since 1999, facing off 78 times, 52 in the regular season, 26 and counting in the playoffs. Duncan is 45-33 in those games. Yes, they're old guys now. Yes, their teams will go as far as they take them.

X-factor: The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green had big roles in the playoffs last year, and Leonard has blossomed this season.

No. 4 Rockets (54-28) vs. No. 5 Trail Blazers (54-28)

Season series: Rockets 3-1.

Story line: Houston has the home-court advantage and high hopes in its first season after landing Dwight Howard, but the Blazers had the stronger finish, winning their final five games.

Key matchup: Patrick Beverley vs. Damian Lillard. Houston's defense is so much improved when Beverley is on the floor, but he also was in double figures three times against Portland during the regular season and finished with nine points and 11 rebounds in the other game. Lillard had three 20-point games against Houston, but the Blazers' lone victory came when he shot 1-for-10 for eight points.

X-factor: Dwight Howard. Assuming he's fully healthy after missing time because of an ankle problem, the Rockets will expect him to score on one end and slow LaMarcus Aldridge on the other.

Times wires

Playoff previews

First-round series beginning today:

NBA playoff previews 04/19/14 [Last modified: Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:14pm]

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