NBA first-round playoff series capsules
Capsules for the first-round NBA playoff series in the Eastern and Western Conferences:
No. 1 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (60-22) vs. No. 8 DETROIT PISTONS (41-41)
Season series: Bucks, 4-0
Story line: After rolling to the NBA’s best record, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks open against a team they toyed with on their way to Milwaukee’s first 60-win season since 1980-81. The NBA’s highest-scoring team swept Detroit for the first time, averaging 114.5 points and winning by 14.8 per game. The Pistons, who didn’t clinch a playoff berth until the fight night of the season, are 4-0 against the Bucks in the postseason.
Key matchup: Brook Lopez vs. Andre Drummond. The 7-foot Lopez may spend much of his time on offense out on the perimeter shooting 3-pointers, but there’s work to do around the basket defensively against the NBA’s leading rebounder, who grabbed 15.6 boards per game.
Prediction: Bucks in 4.
No. 2 TORONTO RAPTORS (58-24) vs. No. 7 ORLANDO MAGIC (42-40)
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
Story line: Swept out of the postseason by LeBron James and Cleveland the last two years, the Raptors hope this Nick Nurse-coached, Kawhi Leonard-led team is the one that can finally get to the NBA Finals for the first time. The first step is an Orlando team that is back in the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Key matchup: Marc Gasol vs. Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic averaged 20.8 points and 12.0 rebounds in an All-Star season as the centerpiece of the Magic’s turnaround. But like most of the team, he’ll be at a severe postseason experience disadvantage against Gasol, whose first playoff game in a uniform other than Memphis’ will be the 60th of his career.
Prediction: Raptors in 5.
No. 3 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (51-31) vs. No. 6 BROOKLYN NETS (42-40)
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
Story line: The 76ers loaded up for a postseason run, making trades during the regular season to acquire Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. With All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons already in place along with JJ Redick, they built what may be not only the strongest starting five in the East but also one of the best in the NBA. Now they need that to pay off starting against a surprising Nets team that reached the postseason for the first time since 2015.
Key matchup: Simmons vs. D’Angelo Russell. The point guards were both first-time All-Stars this season, and after Simmons was rookie of the year in 2017-18, Russell hopes to pick up some hardware soon as a candidate for the Most Improved Player award. Simmons is speedy but not much of a shooter, while Russell does most of his damage from the perimeter. But they are quite similar in one way: They were teammates at Montverde Academy in Florida from 2012-14.
Prediction: 76ers in 5.
No. 4 BOSTON CELTICS (49-33) vs. No. 5 INDIANA PACERS (48-34)
Season series: Celtics, 3-1
Story line: Considered one of the East favorites before the season, the Celtics instead needed to beat the Pacers twice down the stretch just to ensure they’d finish fourth and have home-court advantage against a team that lost its best player when Victor Oladipo was injured. Now Boston hopes to begin showing it can still be the team it was expected to be.
Key matchup: Al Horford vs. Myles Turner. Neither team is particularly potent so needs to rely on being solid defensively. Horford quarterbacks the Celtics’ defensive effort from the frontcourt, while Turner was the NBA’s leading shot blocker during the season.
Prediction: Celtics in 5.
No. 1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (57-25) vs. No. 8 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (48-34)
Season series: Warriors, 3-1
Story line: Golden State’s quest for a third straight championship comes against a Clippers team that is playing with house money and no pressure whatsoever. Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins will appear in the playoffs for the first time, and Golden State beat Doc Rivers’ club by 27 points earlier this week.
Key matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Patrick Beverley. Look, Beverley isn’t going to “win” this matchup in a statistical sense. He’s not going to outscore or outshoot Curry. But Beverley takes great pride in being one of the NBA’s biggest pests, a super-tough, super-aggressive defender who can, and will, cause problems. He’ll get Curry playoff-sharp in a hurry.
Prediction: Warriors in 5.
No. 2 DENVER NUGGETS (54-28) vs. No. 7 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (48-34)
Season series: Tied, 2-2
Story line: The Nuggets are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and the Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since 1997. Denver’s rotation guys — other than Paul Millsap — aren’t swimming in postseason experience, and the question becomes how equipped they are to handle this stage. The season series suggests this matchup could last a while; both went 2-0 at home.
Key matchup: Nuggets coach Michael Malone vs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Here’s the experience factor again: Malone has been on the sideline for zero playoff games as a head coach, while Popovich has coached 277. (For an on-court one, the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray will be dogged by defense played by the Spurs’ Derrick White.)
Prediction: Nuggets in 7.
No. 3 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (53-29) vs. No. 6 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (49-33)
Season series: Thunder, 4-0.
Story line: Oklahoma City started 0-4, then went 37-15, then went 12-14 from there. The Blazers went 7-2 down the stretch after losing Jusuf Nurkic, and have a backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum that’s certainly capable of matching the firepower of Thunder stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George. OKC swept the series — winning twice by nine points, once by two and the other in overtime.
Key matchup: Enes Kanter vs. Steven Adams. Assume the biggest stars on both sides will be stars. The series might be decided by which side can defend the rim better. Kanter has been great down the stretch for Portland, and Adams is a stabilizing force for the Thunder.
Prediction: Thunder in 6.
No. 4 HOUSTON ROCKETS (53-29) vs. No. 5 UTAH JAZZ (50-32)
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
Story line: Both teams started slowly, then found their best stride — Houston was 11-14 and went 42-15 from there, Utah was 18-20 and went 32-12 from there. Led by James Harden, the Rockets made more 3-pointers this season than any team in NBA history. The Jazz gave up the second-fewest 3s this season. The way these teams are playing, it’s kind of a shame that they’re meeting in the first round.
Key matchup: Harden vs. Donovan Mitchell. For the second straight season, Mitchell gets matched up against the reigning NBA MVP in Round 1. Last season, it was Russell Westbrook — and the Jazz won that series to get into the second round against Harden and these Rockets.
Prediction: Rockets in 7.
Compiled by AP Basketball Writers Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds