Rod Beard breaks down NBA first-round matchups

Rod Beard
The Detroit News


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

Series: 2-2

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