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NBA playoffs: Eastern Conference preview

NBAPro BasketballBasketballToronto RaptorsMiami HeatIndiana Pacers

1. INDIANA

56-26 (Home: 35-6; Road: 21-20)

vs. 8. ATLANTA

38-44 (Home: 24-17; Road: 14-27)

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Key stat: Even with its epic late-season slide, Indiana still ranked second in the league by giving up only 92.3 points per game.

Outlook: Atlanta is a tough matchup for the Pacers because of its ability to space the floor with three-point shooters Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Lou Williams and Jeff Teague. The Hawks also won't be lacking for confidence after beating Indiana by 19 points on the road in the teams' last meeting.

Prediction: Let's not get too carried away just because Indiana stumbled into the playoffs. The Pacers are still vastly superior to a sub-.500 team, even if they were one themselves in recent weeks. Pacers in five.

2. MIAMI

54-28 (Home: 32-9; Road: 22-19)

vs. 7. CHARLOTTE

43-39 (Home: 25-16; Road: 18-23)

Season series: Miami, 4-0.

Key stat: The Heat ranked fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 110.9 points per 100 possessions, despite ranking 12th in points per game (102.2), largely because it made a league-leading 50.1% of its shots.

Outlook: The Bobcats are a warm and snugly story, making the playoffs only two years removed from a seven-win season. Credit the arrival of Coach Steve Clifford and beastly power forward Al Jefferson, who has given Charlotte a star presence outside of Michael Jordan's owner's suite. Meanwhile, the two-time defending champion Heat is almost back to full strength with the returns of Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden.

Prediction: Miami's three-peat bid gets off to start that's as easy as one, two, three, four. Heat in four.

3. TORONTO

48-34 (Home: 26-15; Road: 22-19)

vs. 6. BROOKLYN

44-38 (Home: 28-13; Road: 16-25)

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Key stat: Brooklyn's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have a combined 387 games of playoff experience compared to 24 for the Raptors' starters.

Outlook: Everyone expected Brooklyn to be here after acquiring Pierce and Garnett last summer. Few thought Toronto would be after trading star Rudy Gay in December. But breakthrough seasons by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry plus the occasional 51-point game from Terrence Ross have put the Raptors back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Prediction: The Nets' veterans have been there and won that too many times to let the Raptors upstage them. Nets in six.

4. CHICAGO

48-34 (Home: 27-14; Road: 21-20)

vs. 5. WASHINGTON

44-38 (Home: 22-19; Road: 22-19)

Season series: Washington, 2-1.

Key stat: Chicago's defense is again the best in the NBA, allowing only 91.8 points per game.

Outlook: Nobody shrugs off injuries to superstars and the departures of fan favorites better than the Bulls, who persevered after losing Derrick Rose to another knee injury early in the season and watching Luol Deng leave via trade in February. They still clinched homecourt advantage in the first round against the emerging Wizards, who feature the league's most dynamic young backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Prediction: Chicago Coach Tom Thibodeau's shrewd in-game adjustments will be among the factors that x out the Wizards. Bulls in six.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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