Rod Beard breaks down NBA first-round matchups
1 Cleveland vs. 8 Detroit
Records: Cleveland 57-25, Detroit 44-38
Series: Pistons 3-1
Storyline: The Pistons are back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years and face the formidable Cavaliers, who are favored to win the East again.
Key player — Cavaliers F LeBron James: He has the uncanny combination of skilled scoring, perfect passing and lofty leadership.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five
2 Toronto vs. 7 Indiana
Records: Toronto 56-26, Indiana 45-37
Series: Raptors 3-1
Storyline: The Raptors will try to get out of the first round and show themselves as a legitimate challenger to the Cavaliers.
Key player — Pacers F Paul George: He can take over a series by himself, but he’ll have to have some complementary pieces to fill in the gaps.
Prediction: Pacers in seven
3 Miami vs. 6 Charlotte
Records: Miami 48-34, Charlotte 48-34
Storyline: The Hornets are a dark horse, but among the top teams in the East with their young talent. The Heat still is pushing forward with a retooled roster.
Key player — Hornets G Kemba Walker: He had an All-Star season, though he was snubbed. He’ll help the Hornets try to take the next step with a series win.
Prediction: Heat in five
4 Atlanta vs. 5 Boston
Records: Atlanta 48-34, Boston 48-34
Series: Hawks 3-1
Storyline: The Celtics are building on their surprising trip to the playoffs last year. They still have plenty of room to improve with a young squad.
Key player — Celtics G Isaiah Thomas: He is making a mark on a national level with his development this season and should get some All-NBA votes.
Prediction: Hawks in six
1 Golden State vs. 8 Houston
Records: Golden State 73-9, Houston 41-41
Series: Warriors 3-0
Storyline: In a rematch of last year’s West finals, the Warriors are trying to turn the Rockets into a speed bump on their way to a repeat.
Key player — Warriors G Steph Curry: He is rolling after another MVP-worthy season and is one of the biggest attractions in the NBA.
Prediction: Warriors in four
2 San Antonio vs. 7 Memphis
Records: San Antonio 67-15, Memphis 42-40
Series: Spurs 4-0
Storyline: The Grizzlies limp into the playoffs after being decimated by injuries to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Key player — Spurs F Kawhi Leonard: He looks to be a stopper in the series, extinguishing any hopes the Grizzlies had in challenging.
Prediction: Spurs in four
3 Oklahoma City vs. 6 Dallas
Records: Oklahoma City 55-27, Dallas 42-40
Series: Oklahoma City 4-0
Storyline: The Thunder is under the radar, with all the focus on the Warriors and Spurs.
Key player — Thunder G Russell Westbrook: He is garnering as much attention in opponents’ game plans than Kevin Durant.
Prediction: Thunder in five
4 L.A. Clippers vs. 5 Portland
Records: Los Angeles 53-29, Portland 44-38
Series: Los Angeles 3-1
Storyline: The Trail Blazers clearly overachieved this season, getting back to the playoffs without LaMarcus Aldridge.
Key player — Clippers G Chris Paul: He leads a backcourt matchup that will be worth the price of admission.
Prediction: Clippers in six