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NBA playoffs: Eastern Conference preview and predictions

NBA playoffs: Eastern Conference preview and predictions
Forward Kawhi Leonard, shooting over Thunder forward Paul George, will try to lead the Raptors back to the Eastern Conference finals. (Frank Gunn / Associated Press)

A look at each Eastern Conference playoff series and how the teams match up in the first round:

1. MILWAUKEE

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60-22 (Home 33-8; Road 27-14)

8. DETROIT

41-41 (Home 26-15; Road 15-26)

Season series: Bucks 4-0

Key stats: Nearly 25% of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s attempted baskets for Milwaukee this season were dunks. He made 279 this year. Detroit’s Blake Griffin, who had more than 200 dunks as a rookie, made only 37 this season. Andre Drummond led Detroit with 167 slams this season.

Outlook: The Bucks have been a juggernaut all season, transforming their offense to a host of three-point threats around Antetokounmpo (27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists), who will likely end up winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. With his size and ball-handling ability, there’s no one who can keep him from getting to the basket. Detroit’s best hope, Griffin (24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds), has been slowed by a knee injury down the stretch and won’t be 100% for the start of the series (if at all).

Prediction: Milwaukee in five.

SCHEDULE

(All times Pacific)

Game 1 Sunday at Milwaukee, 4 p.m., TNT

Game 2 Wednesday at Milwaukee, 5 p.m., NBATV

Game 3 April 20 at Detroit, 5 p.m., ESPN

Game 4 April 22 at Detroit, 5 p.m., TNT

Game 5 April 24 at Milwaukee, TBD

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Game 6 April 26 at Detroit, TBD

Game 7 April 28 at Milwaukee, TBD

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2. TORONTO

58-24 (Home 32-9; Road 26-15)

7. ORLANDO

42-40 (Home 25-16; Road 17-24)

Season series: Even 2-2

Key stats: The Raptors only lost five of the 20 games that All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard missed this season as part of their plan to keep him healthy. One of those losses came to the Magic. Also, don’t expect a lot of whistles this series; Orlando’s 1,526 fouls this season were the second fewest in the NBA, and no team shot fewer free throws than the Magic.

Outlook: The Raptors have been constructed specifically to get to this point, with the team trading All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan for Leonard (26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds) explicitly to make them a more credible championship contender. The Raptors, despite winning at least 48 games for each of the last six seasons, have only one trip to the conference finals to show for it. Former USC star Nikola Vucevic (20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds) could have a tough series with Raptors big men Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka ready to defend him.

Prediction: Toronto in five.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Saturday at Toronto, 2 p.m., ESPN

Game 2 Tuesday at Toronto, 5 p.m., TNT

Game 3 Friday at Orlando, 4 p.m., ESPN

Game 4 April 21 at Orlando,4 p.m., TNT

Game 5 April 23 at Toronto, TBD

Game 6 April 25 at Orlando, TBD

Game 7 April 27 at Toronto, TBD

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3. PHILADELPHIA

51-31 (Home 31-10; Road 20-21)

6. BROOKLYN

42-40 (Home 23-18; Road 19-22)

Season series: Even 2-2

Key stats: Only six of Philadelphia guard Ben Simmons’ 960 shots this season were three-point attempts. Brooklyn has only one rotation player, center Ed Davis, who took fewer three-pointers than Simmons this season.

Outlook: The Brooklyn Nets have been a terrific story this season, recovering from the hell they created by trading multiple picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, slowing the rebuild. Former Laker D’Angelo Russell (21.1 points, 7.0 assists) has been great in a star-making season. Philadelphia, though, is no surprise, with a loaded starting lineup led by center Joel Embiid (27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds). But a thin bench eventually could be the 76ers’ undoing.

Prediction: Philadelphia in five.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Saturday at Philadelphia, 11:30 a.m., ESPN

Game 2 Monday at Philadelphia, 5 p.m., TNT

Game 3 Thursday at Brooklyn, 5 p.m., TNT

Game 4 April 20 at Brooklyn, noon, TNT

Game 5 April 23 at Philadelphia, TBD

Game 6 April 25 at Brooklyn, TBD

Game 7 April 27 at Philadelphia, TBD

::

4. BOSTON

49-33 (Home 28-13; Road 21-20)

5. INDIANA

48-34 (Home 29-12; Road 19-22)

Season series: Celtics 3-1

Key stats: Boston All-Star guard Kyrie Irving was one of the most efficient high-volume players in the NBA this season. He and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns were the only two players to shoot at least 48% from the field and 40% from three-point range while playing more than 33 minutes per game. If Indiana forward Bojan Bogdonovic played 80 seconds more per game, he’d be the third.

Outlook: That the Pacers didn’t completely fade after All-Star guard Victor Oladipo played only 36 games is a testament to fine work done on the court, on the bench and in the front office. Center Myles Turner (13.3 points, 2.7 blocks) is one of the best defenders in the NBA who doesn’t get talked about. But Boston’s roster is so deep, even after a late-season injury to Marcus Smart that’ll cost him at least this series. Gordon Hayward (11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds) found his groove in the last eight games, scoring 16.4 points on 58.5% shooting.

Prediction: Boston in six.

Game 1 Sunday at Boston, 10 a.m., TNT

Game 2 Wednesday at Boston, 4 p.m., TNT

Game 3 Friday at Indiana, 5:30 p.m., ABC

Game 4 April 21 at Indiana, 10 a.m., ABC

Game 5 April 24 at Boston, TBD

Game 6 April 26 at Indiana, TBD

Game 7 April 28 at Boston, TBD

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