NBA: First-round playoff predictions

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Wednesday's action saw the curtain finally fall on another breathless regular season in the NBA. Despite the Eastern Conference being historically awful, the 2013/14 campaign certainly did not fail to disappoint.

While it is now all over for another year for those bound for the lottery, there is a very short turnaround for the league's best teams with the playoffs set to get underway this Saturday.

With the match-ups and schedules for each conference now confirmed, here GMS briefly attempts to predict the outcome of each first-round series.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (1) v Atlanta Hawks (8)

With a stifling defence and a bonafide star in Paul George, the Pacers were dominant throughout the first half of the season. A dramatic and worrying wobble following the All-Star break threatened to undo all of Frank Vogel's hard work, but they eventually secured the number one seed thanks to Miami's defeat to Washington on Monday.

The Hawks endured a struggle of their own as the clock counted down towards the postseason and Mike Budenholzer's men can perhaps consider themselves a touch fortunate to have kept their playoff run going at the expense of the New York Knicks.

While the Pacers have struggled offensively of late, I don't see the Hawks posing too much of a threat. Indiana in five.

Miami Heat (2) v Charlotte Bobcats (7)

The Heat don't seem too disappointed not to have claimed that top seed in the East and we'll see what impact that could have if any potential series with the Pacers ends up lasting the distance once again.

The Bobcats - soon to become the Hornets once again - have been much improved under Steve Clifford, with the likes of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker performing well to help this franchise reach the postseason for only the second time.

Playoff specialists Miami should advance easily in their pursuit of a fourth straight Finals trip and a third consecutive championship, but the Bobcats are more than capable of making them work hard for every single victory. Miami in four.

Toronto Raptors (3) v Brooklyn Nets (6)

Enjoying the best season in franchise history, Toronto - led by the stellar talents of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan - capitalised on a horrendously weak Eastern Conference field to take their place as the third seed.

The Nets, meanwhile, suffered a woeful start to the season under rookie coach Jason Kidd but their star-studded, expensive veteran lineup eventually managed to recover to take their place in the playoffs.

This is an intriguing series, but I'm backing the Nets to finally realise their full potential at just the right time. Brooklyn in six.

Chicago Bulls (4) v Washington Wizards (5)

The injury sustained to former MVP point guard Derrick Rose and the loss of the traded Luol Deng could have led the Bulls into freefall, but it is a testament to their battling spirit under coach Tom Thibodeau that they did not simply give up and drift towards the lottery.

The Wizards - whose young backcourt pairing of John Wall and Bradley Beal is arguably the most exciting in the NBA - are right about where they would have expected to be and will be entering the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Providing Joakim Noah remains on song and the Bulls manage to retain that admirable fight, they have what it takes to make some noise again this year and head into the semi-finals. Chicago in six.

Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs (1) v Dallas Mavericks (8)

While most teams may have crumbled after losing out on a championship in such cruel circumstances, the Spurs' 2013 Finals defeat just seems to have made them stronger.

After seeing their run of 12 consecutive postseason appearances ended last time out, Dallas just edged over the line at the expense of the surprising Phoenix Suns.

The impressive tandem of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis should be enough to trouble Gregg Popovich's crew, but I can't see the Mavs springing a big shock against the best team in the league. San Antonio in four.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) v Memphis Grizzlies (7)

After losing to Memphis in surprising fashion in last year's semi-finals without the services of the injured Russell Westbrook, this series represents the perfect chance for revenge for an OKC team inspired by the simply incredible form of MVP-in-waiting Kevin Durant.

While the neutrals and romantics were pining for the Suns to make the playoffs, the Grizz's famous grit-and-grind style - spearheaded by bruising big-man duo Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph - should provide another stiff test of the Thunder's credentials.

With Durant playing the best ball of his life, though, I think they have enough to get it done this time. OKC in five.

LA Clippers (3) v Golden State Warriors (6)

Arguably the most keenly-anticipated series of the first round in either conference, the bad blood that has festered between these two teams this season should make this an unmissable event.

The Clips - with Chris Paul marshalling a creative offence and Blake Griffin proving that he is more than just a highlight-reel dunker - have looked impressive under the tutelage of Doc Rivers.

The Warriors are notoriously unpredictable, but 'Splash Brothers' Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are formidable threats and can sink any team from beyond the three-point line.

This has the potential to go all the way if both teams are locked in at their best. LA in six.

Houston Rockets (4) v Portland Trailblazers (5)

Last but by no means least, the Rockets take on Portland in another strong contest out West.

While James Harden and Dwight Howard are still learning the intracacies of each other's games, the presence of two such superstars will surely be of massive importance. The fitness of fiesty guard Patrick Beverley could also prove crucial, with back-up Jeremy Lin often unconvincing.

As the early surprise package of the season, the Blazers were in unbelievable shooting form and appeared as if they couldn't be tamed. An injury to LaMarcus Aldridge slowed their progress somewhat, but it was always going to be a tough task for Terry Stotts' men to stay that hot from beyond the arc.

Houston in five.

What do you make of our predictions? Agree or disagree? Let us know and leave your own below...

Eastern Conference
Indiana Pacers
Western Conference
Chicago Bulls
Miami Heat

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