Correction:

A previous version of this story identified Steph Curry as a player for the Denver Nuggets. He plays for the Golden State Warriors. This version has been corrected.

NBA playoff preview

Bill Waugh/Reuters - Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant may be the only man standing in the way of LeBron James and the Miami Heat’s pursuit of a second consecutive title.

No. 1 Miami Heat

vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks

Video

With one game remaining in the regular season, the Post Sports Live crew looks at the optimism surrounding the Washington Wizards and why next year may not be the year things change for the better.

With one game remaining in the regular season, the Post Sports Live crew looks at the optimism surrounding the Washington Wizards and why next year may not be the year things change for the better.

Wizards Insider

Wizards Insider

Insight on the Wizards and all the latest news from Post reporter Michael Lee.

●Why the Heat will win in five: The defending champion Heat has home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and the best player in three-time MVP LeBron James. Miami proved it could maintain postseason intensity and focus while recording the NBA’s longest winning streak in 42 years (27 games). Marquette alum Dwyane Wade is well rested. Miami won three of four against the Bucks.

●Difference maker: Brandon Jennings, Bucks. Jennings boldly — and playfully — predicted Milwaukee would win in six games. The soon-to-be restricted agent will have a chance to back up his words after averaging 23.8 points in four games against Miami this season.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 : Miami vs. Milwaukee, tomorrow, 7 (TNT)

Game 2: Miami vs. Milwaukee, Tuesday, 7:30 (NBA TV)

Game 3: Milwaukee vs. Miami, Thursday, 7 (TNT)

Game 4: Milwaukee vs. Miami, April 28, 3:30 (ABC)

Game 5*: Miami vs. Milwaukee, April 30, TBD

Game 6*: Milwaukee vs. Miami, May 2, TBD

Game 7*: Miami vs. Milwaukee, May 4, TBD (TNT)

*If necessary

No. 2 New York Knicks

vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics

●Why the Knicks will win in seven: Carmelo Anthony captured his first scoring title but has more to prove after losing in first round in eight of first nine playoff appearances. On a team with the better record entering a postseason series for just the second time, Anthony wants payback after getting swept by the Celtics in 2011. New York ended Boston’s five-year reign atop Atlantic Division and won the last three meetings.

●Difference maker: Kevin Garnett, Celtics. Garnett got in heated parking-lot exchange with Anthony in January and has been battling a serious ankle injury. Garnett and Paul Pierce have never lost a first-round series since joining forces in 2007. Rajon Rondo is out.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: New York vs. Boston, today, 3 (ABC)

Game 2: New York vs. Boston, Tuesday, 8 (TNT)

Game 3: Boston vs. New York, Friday, 8 (ESPN)

Game 4: Boston vs. New York, April 28, 1 (ABC)

Game 5*: New York vs. Boston, May 1, TBD

Game 6*: Boston vs. New York, May 3, TBD

Game 7*: New York vs. Boston, May 5, TBD

No. 3 Indiana Pacers

vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks

●Why the Pacers will win in six: The Pacers slipped down the stretch, losing five of six to cede the second seed to New York. They still have the league’s stingiest defense, holding opponents to just 42 percent shooting. Indiana is well prepared for the postseason grind with a gritty, unappealing style. Indiana and Atlanta split four games, with the Pacers outscoring the Hawks, 400-395.

●Difference maker: Josh Smith, Hawks. After enduring trade rumors for much of the season, Smith will hit free agency this summer and needs a quality performance to increase his value. With Joe Johnson gone, the pressure is on Smith to stand up as a leader.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Indiana vs. Atlanta, tomorrow, 1 (TNT)

Game 2: Indiana vs. Atlanta, Wednesday, 7:30 (NBA TV)

Game 3: Atlanta vs. Indiana, April 27, 7 (ESPN)

Game 4: Atlanta vs. Indiana, April 29, TBD

Game 5*: Indiana vs. Atlanta, May 1, TBD

Game 6*: Atlanta vs. Indiana, May 3, TBD

G ame 7*: Indiana vs. Atlanta, May 5, TBD

No. 4 Brooklyn Nets

vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls

●Why the Nets will win in seven: The Nets’ first season in Brooklyn finally got on track when P.J. Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson. The Nets lost the season series to Chicago, 3-1, but they are healthier than the Bulls, who have been competitive without Derrick Rose. But the challenge is greater — and Brook Lopez could dominate — with Joakim Noah limited because of a foot injury.

●Difference maker: Deron Williams, Nets. Williams had cortisone shots and PRP treatments in February to sooth his ailing ankles and has since regained his all-star form, averaging 22.3 points and eight assists.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Brooklyn vs. Chicago, today, 8 (ESPN)

Game 2: Brooklyn vs. Chicago, Monday, 8 (TNT)

Game 3: Chicago vs. Brooklyn, Thursday, 8:30 (NBA TV)

Game 4: Chicago vs. Brooklyn, April 27, 2 (TNT)

Game 5*: Brooklyn vs. Chicago, April 29, TBD

Game 6*: Chicago vs. Brooklyn, May 2, TBD

Game 7*: Brooklyn vs. Chicago, May 4, TBD (TNT)

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder

vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

●Why the Thunder will win in six: The defending Western Conference champion Thunder finished tied for the sixth-best margin of victory in NBA history (9.3 points). Oklahoma City has the highest-scoring duo in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and is also the only team that ranks in the top five in offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. Houston can score but doesn’t play defense.

●Difference maker: James Harden, Rockets. Five months after his surprising trade from Oklahoma City, Harden will have a chance to knock off his former team. He averaged 29 points in three games against the Thunder, including 46 in Houston’s lone win.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, tomorrow, 9:30 (TNT)

Game 2: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, Wednesday, 7 (TNT)

Game 3: Houston vs. Oklahoma City, April 27, 9:30 (ESPN)

Game 4: Houston vs. Oklahoma City, April 29, TBD

Game 5*: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, May 1, TBD

Game 6*: Houston vs. Oklahoma City, May 3, TBD

Game 7*: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, May 5, TBD

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs

vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

●Why the Spurs will win in seven: Tony Parker’s struggles since suffering a badly sprained ankle in March led the Spurs’ offense to collapse and as they were knocked from their perch atop the conference. But Manu Ginobili is back after recovering from a hamstring injury and Tim Duncan, who turns 37 next week, remains an effective player on both ends, which should counter the Lakers’ recent resurgence.

●Difference maker: Dwight Howard, Lakers. With Kobe Bryant out with a torn Achilles’ tendon, Howard has a chance to audition as the team’s franchise player and prove that he belongs in the pantheon of great Laker big men before hitting free agency.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: San Antonio vs. Los Angeles, tomorrow, 3:30 (ABC)

Game 2: San Antonio vs. Los Angeles, Wednesday, 9:30 (TNT)

Game 3: Los Angeles vs. San Antonio, Friday, 10:30 (ESPN)

Game 4: Los Angeles vs. San Antonio, April 28, 7 (TNT)

Game 5*: San Antonio vs. Los Angeles, April 30, TBD

Game 6*: Los Angeles vs. San Antonio, May 2, TBD

Game 7*: San Antonio vs. Los Angeles, May 4, TBD (TNT)

No. 3 Denver Nuggets

vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors

●Why the Nuggets will win in six: Denver will miss injured forward Danilo Gallinari in later rounds and Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are also recovering from injuries, but has the depth and talent to withstand against a playoff novice in Golden State. The Nuggets won the season series, 3-1, lead the league in points per game in the paint (58) and have won 23 straight at Pepsi Center.

●Difference maker: Steph Curry, Warriors. Curry broke Ray Allen’s record for three-pointers in a single season and has the ability to single-handedly shoot the Warriors into the second round — especially after he shot 16 of 24 from three-point range in four meetings.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Denver vs. Golden State, today, 5:30 (ESPN)

Game 2: Denver vs. Golden State, Tuesday, 10:30 (TNT)

Game 3: Golden State vs. Denver, Friday, 10:30 (ESPN2)

Game 4: Golden State vs. Denver, April 28, 9:30 (TNT)

Game 5*: Denver vs. Golden State, April 30, TBD

Game 6*: Golden State vs. Denver, May 2, TBD

Game 7*: Denver vs. Golden State, May 4, TBD (TNT)

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers

vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies

●Why the Clippers will win in seven: Two 56-win teams with clashing styles — the Clippers are about highlights; the Grizzlies are about rugged defense — meet in a rematch of their seven-game first-round series last season. The Clippers should emerge again, with the team winning three of four regular-season matchups, possessing more depth and experience and Chris Paul needing a deep playoff run.

●Difference maker: Mike Conley, Grizzlies. After Memphis traded Rudy Gay on Jan. 30, Conley averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists while leading the Grizzlies to a 27-11 finish. Conley has struggled against Paul this season, shooting 30 percent from the floor.

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Los Angeles vs. Memphis, today, 10:30 (ESPN)

Game 2: Los Angeles vs. Memphis, Monday, 10:30 (TNT)

Game 3: Memphis vs. Los Angeles, Thursday, 9:30 (TNT)

G ame 4: Memphis vs. Los Angeles, April 27, 4:30 (TNT)

Game 5*: Los Angeles vs. Memphis, April 30, TBD

Game 6*: Memphis vs. Los Angeles, May 3, TBD

Game 7*: Los Angeles vs. Memphis, May 5, TBD

— Michael Lee

 
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