Why Indiana will win in five: For as much as Indiana has struggled of late, losing eight of its past 13 games, the Pacers still sit as the Eastern Conference’s top team and one of the NBA’s best defensive units. With a home record of 35-6, emerging superstar Paul George will look to set the tone early for a deep Pacers team on a mission to dethrone two-time defending champ Miami.
Difference maker: Roy Hibbert, Pacers. In Indiana’s last meeting with Atlanta on April 6, the Pacers were blown out by 19 points and Hibbert was benched early, finishing with zero points and one rebound in nine minutes. The two-time all-star must re-establish his presence inside if Indiana hopes to create matchup problems for the smaller Hawks.
Saturday: at Indiana, 7
Tuesday: at Indiana, 7
Thursday: at Atlanta, 7
April 26: at Atlanta, 2
x-April 28: at Indiana, 8
x-May 1: at Atlanta, TBD
x-May 3: at Indiana, TBD
Why Brooklyn will win in seven: One of the NBA’s most surprising teams, Toronto will face one of the league’s best teams on paper in the Nets. Though Brooklyn stumbled to four losses in its past five games, the Nets boast 399 games of playoff experience with the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on their roster. Meantime, the Raptors’ young but upstart squad has just 24 combined postseason games under its belt.
Difference maker: Kyle Lowry, Raptors. While Brooklyn’s Deron Williams has battled injuries en route to one of his worst seasons, Lowry has been the spark plug for the Raptors’ surprising success. Against the Nets this season, the point guard averaged 22 points and six assists while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Saturday: at Toronto, 12:30
Tuesday: at Toronto, 7:30
Friday: at Brooklyn, 7
April 27: at Brooklyn, 7
x-April 30: at Toronto, TBD
x-May 2: at Brooklyn, TBD
x-May 4: at Toronto, TBD
Why Oklahoma City will win in six: Memphis capitalized on the knee injury that knocked Russell Westbrook out of the playoffs last season and sent the favored Thunder packing in the Western Conference semifinals. That surely isn’t lost on Kevin Durant, who elevated his game to even greater heights for a campaign that likely will yield his first MVP trophy.
Difference maker: Tony Allen, Grizzlies. No one has been able to stop Durant this season, but if there’s anybody who can come close, it’s Allen. The lockdown defender will be charged with harassing the Thunder superstar, although this time the Grizzlies will have to worry about Westbrook as well.
Saturday: at Oklahoma City, 9:30
Monday: at Oklahoma City, 8
Thursday: at Memphis, 8
April 26: at Memphis, 9:30
x-April 29: at Oklahoma City, TBD
x-May 1: at Memphis, TBD
x-May 3: at Oklahoma City, TBD
Why Los Angeles will win in seven: Golden State’s chances at a deep playoff run took a major blow when center Andrew Bogut went out indefinitely last week with a fractured rib. Without their man in the middle, the Warriors will have a hard time slowing down the Clippers’ high-octane offense behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in what should be an intense series.
Difference maker: Deandre Jordan, Clippers. The ability of the Clippers center to take advantage of the absence of Bogut in the paint will be key to offsetting the sharpshooting, high-scoring tendencies of Golden State’s Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Saturday: at L.A. Clippers, 3:30
Monday: at L.A. Clippers, 10:30
Thursday: at Golden State, 10:30
April 27: at Golden State, 3:30
x-April 29: at L.A. Clippers, TBD
x-May 1: at Golden State, TBD
x-May 3: at L.A. Clippers, TBD
x- If necessary.
— Brandon Parker