NBA playoffs 2018: Previewing every first-round match-up

It's that time of the year again - the 2018 NBA playoffs get underway on Saturday.

The regular season is done and dusted and now the serious competition and drama commences.

Defending champions the Golden State Warriors will be looking to emerge from a loaded Western Conference and win a third title in four years, while the Toronto Raptors will have designs on overthrowing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

With the bracket set and the start of the action imminent, we take a look at the first-round match-ups.



Toronto Raptors [1] vs Washington Wizards [8]

The Raptors held off the Boston Celtics to clinch the number one seed and their reward is a series against the Wizards.

Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto won the second-most games of any NBA team during the regular season, with only the Houston Rockets surpassing their 59 victories.

However, the Wizards beat the Raptors twice this term. They were without John Wall on those occasions and the All-Star point guard returned from a knee injury last month.


Boston Celtics [2] vs Milwaukee Bucks [7]

The Celtics come into the postseason severely understrength with superstar point guard Kyrie Irving having joined Gordon Hayward on the sidelines for the remainder of the campaign.

Coach Brad Stevens will need the likes of Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to come up big if they are to repeat last year's run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

As if their injury concerns were not enough to deal with, Boston must contend with Bucks sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged 33.5 points against them in the regular season.


Philadelphia 76ers [3] vs Miami Heat [6]

The Sixers have been a revelation, finishing the regular season with 16 straight victories after riding their talented and dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to the three seed just two years after going 10-72.

Simmons is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year after posting 12 triple-doubles, while Embiid was elected to his first All-Star Game and leads the team in scoring at 22.9 points per match - though the latter is a doubt for the first encounter with the Heat due to an orbital fracture.

Miami have been steady this term with domineering center Hassan Whiteside the focal point of their starting unit, while veteran former champion Dwyane Wade provides invaluable experience.


Cleveland Cavaliers [4] vs Indiana Pacers [5]

It has been a season of turmoil for Cleveland, their inconsistent play, roster turnover and the health of head coach Tyronn Lue sending them swirling in adversity.

However, they boast arguably the best player in the league in LeBron James - his 18 triple-doubles in 2017-18 matching his tally from the past three regular seasons combined - and now have a steady supporting cast around him.

Indiana by contrast have quietly put together a mightily impressive campaign, headlined by shooting guard Victor Oladipo and center Myles Turner, ensuring the loss of Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder has not been felt sorely.



Houston Rockets [1] vs Minnesota Timberwolves [8]

Suggestions the combination of Chris Paul and leading MVP candidate James Harden would not work have been emphatically brushed aside, with the Rockets entering the playoffs with the best record in the regular season (65-17).

Paul and Harden have formed a duo capable of bulldozing any team, with the Timberwolves facing a serious challenge to ensure that fate does not befall them.

But with Jimmy Butler, who last week returned from a knee injury, joined by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota have the potential to become a major force in the Western Conference.


Golden State Warriors [2] vs San Antonio Spurs [7]

The Warriors still boast the same core of outstanding players that went all the way to the championship last year, making them the favourites to go back to back this season.

Kevin Durant appears more comfortable alongside Stephen Curry in his second year with Golden State, but the two-time MVP faces a race against time to recover from a knee injury.

His absence would boost the Spurs' chances, but it has been far from a vintage season for Gregg Popovich's side with All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard sitting out all but nine games of the campaign due to a quadriceps injury.


Portland Trail Blazers [3] vs New Orleans Pelicans [6]

The Trail Blazers hit a lull entering the playoffs, losing four of their six games in April, though they rounded off the regular season with a victory against the Utah Jazz.

Meanwhile, New Orleans have won five straight - including triumphs versus the Spurs and the Warriors - and will hope power forward Anthony Davis can continue to carry them, having lost DeMarcus Cousins to an Achilles tendon rupture in January.

Davis is averaging a career-best 28.1 points per game.


Oklahoma City Thunder [4] vs Utah Jazz [5]

Oklahoma initially struggled for chemistry after recruiting George and Carmelo Anthony to play alongside the irrepressible Russell Westbrook, but with such a talented roster they stand every chance of a deep run.

Westbrook made history by becoming the first player to average a triple-double in successive NBA seasons and he will be keen to back it up by leading the Thunder further than last term's opening-round exit.

But Utah's potential Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell has been sensational, providing several clutch moments, and rangy center Rudy Gobert provides staunch defence.

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