- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS vs. No. 8 DETROIT PISTONS

Story line: Following the best regular season in franchise history that produced the best record in the league, the Cavaliers open against a Pistons team that hopes to somehow put an ugly season behind it and make a seventh straight trip to the conference finals.

Key matchup: LeBron James vs. Tayshaun Prince. After defending Cleveland’s superstar when the teams split meetings in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs, the versatile Prince is plenty familiar with James’ game. Stopping it is another matter.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5



Series schedule

Today at Cleveland, 3

Tuesday at Cleveland, 8

Friday at Detroit, 7

April 26 at Detroit, 3:30

April 29 at Cleveland, TBA*

May 1 at Detroit, TBA*

May 3 at Cleveland, TBA*

* if necessary; all times p.m.

No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS vs. No. 7 CHICAGO BULLS

Story line: The Celtics could be without Kevin Garnett throughout the playoffs because of his strained right knee. That leaves them vulnerable against a Bulls team that played very well in the second half of the season.

Key matchup: Ray Allen vs. Ben Gordon. The two sharpshooters from Connecticut can get on hot streaks from the 3-point line. Allen scored 27 against Chicago in one of Boston’s wins over the Bulls, and without Garnett he may have to play at that level throughout the series.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

Series schedule

Today at Boston, 12:30

Monday at Boston, 7

Thursday at Chicago, 8

April 26 at Chicago, 1

April 28 at Boston, TBA*

April 30 at Chicago, TBA*

May 2 at Boston, TBA*

No. 3 ORLANDO MAGIC vs. No. 6 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Story line: The Magic will try to shake off a late-season slump in which they lost three straight before winning their regular-season finale. The 76ers were even worse down the stretch, dropping six straight before beating Cleveland’s reserves in the finale.

Key matchup: Hedo Turkoglu vs. Thaddeus Young. Both players had ankle injuries late in the season, and the Sixers missed their swingman. Turkoglu, with all his postseason experience, is often the player Orlando turns to for a big shot.

Prediction: Magic in 5

Series schedule

Tomorrow at Orlando, 5:30

Wednesday at Orlando, 7

Friday at Philadelphia, 8

April 26 at Philadelphia, 6:30

April 28 at Orlando, TBA*

April 30 at Philadelphia, TBA*

May 2 at Orlando, TBA*

No. 4 ATLANTA HAWKS vs. No. 5 MIAMI HEAT

Story line: Rebounding from a 15-win season, the Heat landed the coveted No. 5 spot in the East, allowing them to avoid the power trio of Cleveland, Boston and Orlando. Now Dwyane Wade will try to prevent Atlanta from earning its first postseason series victory in 10 years.

Key matchup: Joe Johnson vs. Wade. If not for Wade, Johnson would be the best guard in the Southeast Division. He averaged 21.4 points this season and was right at that average against the Heat before scoring only nine in limited minutes Tuesday.

Prediction: Hawks in 7

Series schedule

Tomorrow at Atlanta, 8

Wednesday at Atlanta, 8

April 25 at Miami, 6:30

April 27 at Miami, TBA

April 29 at Atlanta, TBA*

May 1 at Miami, TBA*

May 3 at Atlanta, TBA*

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS vs. No. 8 UTAH JAZZ

Story line: The Lakers are back at full strength - and overwhelming favorites to return to the NBA Finals. The Jazz will be dangerous if they find a way to win in Los Angeles: Utah still enjoys one of the league’s best homecourt advantages.

Key matchup: Pau Gasol vs. Carlos Boozer. Many believe the best way to defend Gasol (18.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg) is to be physical. The muscular Boozer is capable of that, but the Jazz certainly need more scoring from him than they got in the regular season.

Prediction: Lakers in 5

Series schedule

Tomorrow at Los Angeles, 3

Tuesday at Los Angeles, 10:30

Thursday at Utah, 10:30

April 25 at Utah, 9

April 27 at Los Angeles, TBA*

April 30 at Utah, TBA*

May 2 at Los Angeles, TBA*

No. 2 DENVER NUGGETS vs. No. 7 NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Story line: The Nuggets, eliminated in the first round five straight seasons, finally have homecourt advantage after tying their franchise record for most wins since joining the NBA. The Hornets struggled badly down the stretch.

Key matchup: Chauncey Billups vs. Chris Paul. Paul has the quickness edge but had some sloppy performances against the Nuggets. Billups, who likely will try to be physical with the smaller Paul, averaged 16 points a game against New Orleans.

Prediction: Nuggets in 6

Series schedule

Tomorrow at Denver, 10:30

Wednesday at Denver, 10:30

April 25 at New Orleans, 1

April 27 at New Orleans, TBA

April 29 at Denver, TBA*

May 1 at New Orleans, TBA*

May 3 at Denver, TBA*

No. 3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS vs. No. 6 DALLAS MAVERICKS

Story line: The Spurs are playing without Manu Ginobili but still managed to win their last four to clinch the Southwest Division title. Dallas also finished strong to vault all the way to the No. 6 seed.

Key matchup: Tony Parker vs. Jason Kidd. Kidd no longer has the speed to defend quick point guards. Parker torched the Mavericks for 31.3 points a game this season, including a pair of 37-point nights. So Dallas may need another solution for San Antonio’s All-Star.

Prediction: Mavericks in 6

Series schedule

Today at San Antonio, 8

Monday at San Antonio, 9:30

Thursday at Dallas, 8:30

April 25 at Dallas, 4

April 28 at San Antonio, TBA*

May 1 at Dallas, TBA*

May 3 at San Antonio, TBA*

No. 4 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS vs. No. 5 HOUSTON ROCKETS

Story line: The young Trail Blazers are back in the postseason for the first time since 2003, ending the longest drought in the NBA. Better yet, they also have homecourt advantage: Portland is 34-7 at home, one of the league’s best records.

Key matchup: Brandon Roy vs. Ron Artest and Shane Battier. The Rockets have two top defensive options to throw at Roy. Artest scored 18 a game in the Rockets’ wins over the Trail Blazers but was limited to nine in their loss to Portland.

Prediction: Rockets in 7

Series schedule

Saturday at Portland, 10:30

Tuesday at Portland, 10

Friday at Houston, 9:30

April 26 at Houston, 9

April 28 at Portland, TBA*

April 30 at Houston, TBA*

May 2 at Portland, TBA*

*If necessary

- Associated Press

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