NBA playoffs: Conference semifinal capsules


After sweeping past Charlotte in the first round, LeBron James leads Miami into the Eastern Conference semifinals against a Brooklyn team it has yet to beat this season (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images).

EASTERN CONFERENCE
No. 2 Miami vs. No. 6 Brooklyn
Why the Heat will win in seven: The Nets have had Miami’s number this season, beating them in all four regular season meetings. But while Brooklyn’s old guard of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will get one day of rest after battling Toronto in a seven-game series, Miami is well-rested and appears to be in playoff form following a fairly easy first-round sweep of Charlotte.
Difference maker: Joe Johnson, Nets. It’s a given that Paul Pierce and LeBron James will get theirs as the focal points of this series, which means Johnson’s matchup with Dwyane Wade could prove key. Johnson’s production increased against Miami to 19.5 points on 51.7 percent shooting, including several clutch buckets down the stretch, when Brooklyn outscored Miami, 23-12, in the last two minutes of their four meetings.

Related: For news on the Wizards-Pacers series, visit the Wizards Insider home page.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
No. 1 San Antonio vs. No. 5 Portland
Why the Spurs will win in six: San Antonio was pushed to the brink in the first round against Dallas but the early test may have been a good thing for this unit, especially after last season’s collapse against Miami in the NBA Finals. The speed and sharpshooting of Portland’s Damian Lillard will stretch the Spurs much like Monta Ellis did with Dallas, but experience trumps energy in this matchup.
Difference maker: LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers. The postseason’s leading scorer at 29.8 points per game will go up against Tim Duncan and the NBA’s third-best defense. The all-star forward may be called upon for more big games to help overcome Portland’s short bench and counter the Spurs’ depth.

No. 2 Oklahoma City vs. No. 3 L.A. Clippers
Why the Thunder will win in seven: Just last week, the Thunder was on the verge of a first-round breakdown, Kevin Durant was Mr. Unreliable and the Clippers were dealing with the distraction of Donald Sterling’s comments and subsequent lifetime ban. Now, both teams will look to start afresh. Plenty of highlights and close calls will make their way into this series of evenly matched teams.
Difference maker: Chris Paul, Clippers. Despite nursing a sore hamstring, sore shoulder and a sprained left thumb, the Clippers still depend on Paul to make their high-powered offense run, as witnessed by his 22-point, 14-assist performance in their Game 7 win against Golden State. Paul also has the opportunity to frustrate Russell Westbrook into the out-of-control play that often dooms the Thunder.

More on the NBA playoffs:

Childhood tragedy helped fuel Trevor Ariza

Jason Reid: Pacers are eager to prove they’ve rebounded vs. Wizards

Mike Wise: Wizards are playing with house money

Wizards say they won’t change much in second round

Latest news on the Wizards Insider blog | Fancy Stats | Early Lead

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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