Boston Celtics (1) v Chicago Bulls (8)
Boston finished the regular season with a flourish to pip Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors to top spot in the overall Eastern Conference standings. They are still regarded as outsiders for the NBA Championship but have punched above their weight all year, while Chicago Bulls needed a final-day win over the Brooklyn Nets just to sneak into the playoffs. The head-to-head this season stands at 2-2 so it won’t be plain sailing, but Boston’s home-court advantage should see them through.
- Tip: Boston Celtics to win 4-3
Washington Wizards (4) v Atlanta Hawks (5)
Only one place may have separated the sides in the Eastern Conference, but the Wizards achieved six more wins and qualified with ease. John Wall and Bradley Beal have been inspirational from the back of the court to lead Washington to the Southeast Division title, but they will need to keep up their intensity against an Atlanta side which has found some form over the past few weeks and has plenty of experience.
- Tip: Washington to win
Toronto Raptors (3) v Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Toronto comfortably qualified for the playoffs after a quietly impressive season and look like they could be ready to make an even bigger impact. However, a combination of factors has made it difficult to get DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and trade deadline recruits Serge Ibaka and P.J Tucker much time on the court together, and if they have not quite gelled then a young and vibrant Milwaukee side will pose a very stern test. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the ‘Greek Freak’, is the Bucks’ star man and it is unclear who in the Toronto side might be able to keep him shackled. If there is to be an upset in the first round, it could just come from Milwaukee.
- Tip: Milwaukee to win
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v Indiana Pacers (7)
Cleveland’s form has deteriorated badly over the past couple of months and they ended the regular season with four straight defeats, while Indiana won five in a row to secure their playoff spot. The Cavaliers are still regarded as the favourites to win the Eastern Conference and there is an expectation that they will just be able to flick the switch and suddenly start replicating the sort of performances that took them to the NBA title last season, but Indiana should feel that they can push LeBron James and co hard and it would not be a surprise to see the series go down to the final game.
- Tip: Cleveland to win 4-3
Golden State Warriors (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)
Portland finished the regular season strongly and will feel they have nothing to lose after just edging ahead of the Denver Nuggets to clinch eighth place in the Western Conference, but over a seven-match series it is hard to make a case for them even competing with the Warriors. Golden State, who have won all four of their matches against the Trail Blazers so far this season, have the best record of anyone in the NBA and are more powerful in every department.
- Tip: Golden State to win 4-0
LA Clippers (4) v Utah Jazz (5)
The clash between Utah and the Clippers promises to be the closest of all the first-round ties. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 51-31 winning records and both come into the postseason in decent form. The Clippers’ recent run has been particularly eye-catching and they have the greater experience, but Utah look like a team on the rise after reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and if George Hill can keep his dream season going then Utah may just nick the series.
- Tip: Utah to win
Houston Rockets (3) v Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
Houston’s clash with Oklahoma pits two of the leading MVP candidates against each other in direct competition, as the Rockets’ James Harden locks horns with Russell Westbrook of City Thunder. Westbrook, the newly-crowned triple-double record holder, has been nothing short of sensational all season, but sharp-shooter Harden has more assistance around him at the Toyota Center and the overall class of Houston should see them get past Oklahoma.
- Tip: Houston to win
San Antonio Spurs (2) v Memphis Grizzlies (7)
The Grizzlies can be proud of their achievement in reaching the playoffs and, with Mike Conley at their heart, the future looks bright. Memphis have the defensive nous to challenge San Antonio and the head-to-head between the two teams this season stands at 2-2, but the Spurs have had such a superb campaign that it would still be a major shock to see them fall in the first round. Kawhi Leonard has been San Antonio’s main man but everyone plays an important role and, with a 61-21 record in the regular season, they are NBA title contenders.
- Tip: San Antonio to win
Please note, odds may fluctuate.