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NBA playoff preview

Another fine NBA season has come and gone, and with it the hopes and dream of 14 teams. While those 14 are preparing for the draft lottery, the other 16 will be dueling it out for the coveted Larry O'Brien Trophy, awarded to the winner of the NBA Finals.

Beginning on Saturday, the teams will square off in round one, a seven-game series, as they all are in the NBA playoffs. There are a few storylines to examine and matchups to look at as we go into the playoffs. Keep in mind that these standings and seeds are as of Tuesday at noon, so there could be movement before Saturday.

Starting in the Western Conference, every seed is set in stone going into the final game of the regular season, and that's just where the fun starts. The San Antonio Spurs once again find themselves in the top spot in the west, followed by the OKC Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets in the four spot. Rounding out the Western Conference playoffs will be the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies.

There are a few interesting stories in this better conference, beginning at the top with the Spurs' first round matchup. The Grizzlies are familiar with the Spurs, and beat them in the 2011 playoffs with this same scenario, with essentially the same team on each side now in 2014. 

The second-seeded Thunder have relied heavily on should-be MVP Kevin Durant all season, and he has produced, averaging over 30 points per game. Will he be able to keep that up in the playoffs, or will we see a tired Durant with more responsibility moving to Russell Westbrook? To put it nicely, that's never what you want to see if you're an OKC fan. 

The thing about the Western Conference is that anyone can beat anyone in any round here, and that is no more evident than the Golden State vs. Los Angeles Clippers matchup. Neither of these teams like to play defense, so we could see scores get up into the 120s or higher in every game of this series. The season series is tied 2-2, so we could be in for the best first round series out there with this one. Watch for Steph Curry to be huge for the Warriors, as he will have to be with the interior bigs for LA. 

The other matchup features the Rockets and Trail Blazers, who never really went away over the course of the year as people thought they would. Again, there will not be a whole lot of defense, as Portland is one of the worst in the league in that category. I'm interested to see how the Blazers guard Chandler Parsons, or if they can. He could be the guy in this series, as Houston's other top players will be played tough on defense.

Moving to the Eastern Conferece, who have been the little brother to the west all season, we see the lone under-.500 team to get into these playoffs is the Atlanta Hawks.

Rounding out the other seven seeds, in ascending order, are the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, with the Pacers just beating out the Heat for the top seed. No problem if you're Miami, you would think. During their three stright Eastern Conference titles, they have been a two-seed for two of them. 

The Pacers face a tough Hawks team that has as much confidence in beating the big boys as anyone in the league, they are currently 2-2 against Indiana. No Al Horford to matchup with Roy Hibbert, but they've played without him since December, so they know how to handle that situation. 

The Heat may have caught a break with their seeding, getting the two and probably avoiding the Hawks, Nets and Bulls until the conference finals. The Bobcats won't provide much of a test for the Heat outside of Al Jefferson inside. The Heat should use this one as a warm-up for their next few rounds, because they'll need it.

The Raptors set a franchise record for wins this year, and will take on the Wizards in the first round. The Raptors have a bunch of young guys without playoff experience, but so do the Wizards, and I expect this series to be each team getting their feet wet with playoff experience. Up next for the winner of this one is the Miami Heat, who are 6-2 against the two all season.

The final Eastern Conference series will be one to watch, with two very different teams in the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets, who both can beat either of the top seeds in the east. Brooklyn and Chicago have a very good record against both Miami and Indiana, and Joakim Noah, the should-be defensive player of the year, will have a big part in this entertaining series. Both teams absolutely hate the Heat, with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce bringing experience from their Boston days against them. One team loves defense (Chicago), while one team would rather not play it and conserve their energy for offense (Brooklyn). Either way, this could be one of the two or three first round series' to go seven games.

It's time for some predictions. The moment you've all been waiting for is upon us. I'd like the Thunder to beat the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, while the Heat take care of the top-seeded Pacers in the East. That would set up a 2012 NBA Finals rematch for Oklahoma City and Miami, where the Heat won the series four games to one. I think this matchup clearly favors the Miami Heat and they'll come up with a three-peat, something only done a handful of times in the history of the league. Look for the Heat to win their third championship in a row, and LeBron to be the MVP of the Finals, because who else can you give it to? Sorry, Ohioans, I know reading that one hurt. 

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