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NBA playoff previews: Lakers get tough test in Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard drives to the basket against Lakers guard Danny Green.
The Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard drives to the basket against the Lakers’ Danny Green on Jan. 31 at Staples Center.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

A series-by-series look at the NBA playoff pairings, complete with predictions and schedules. The No. 1 seed Lakers will face a tough test in the No. 8 Trail Blazers.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
No. 1 LAKERS
52-19
OFF RTG 111.7, DEF RTG 106.1

No. 8 Portland
35-39
OFF RTG 113.2, DEF RTG 114.3

Season series: Lakers 2-1
Outlook: The Lakers’ reward for winning the West — no home-court advantage and a first-round series with red-hot Damian Lillard. The good news is that Portland’s defense has been quite a mess and the Lakers shouldn’t have problems scoring. The bad news? The Lakers have had trouble scoring in the bubble. In eight games since the restart, they have the third-least efficient offense to go with a slightly below-average defense. The bet here is that the playoffs will wake them up.
Prediction: Lakers in 6

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Gm 1 Tuesday, 6 p.m., TNT
Gm 2 Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Gm 3 Aug. 22, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 7
Gm 4 Aug. 24, 6 p.m., TNT
Gm 5 Aug. 26, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 28, TBD*
Gm 7 Aug. 30, TBD*

No. 2 CLIPPERS
49-23
OFF RTG 113.3, DEF RTG 106.9

No. 7 DALLAS
43-32
OFF RTG 115.9, DEF RTG 111.2

The Clippers' Ivica Zubac dunks on the Dallas Mavericks' Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Clippers’ Ivica Zubac dunks on the Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. on Aug. 6 in Florida.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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Season series: Clippers 3-0
Outlook: The Clippers have built their entire season around the playoffs, looking at the big picture when it comes to health and workload in an effort to be rested and ready once the postseason begins. Dallas looks like it’ll be a fixture in the postseason for as long as Luka Doncic is on the court, but the NBA’s top offense won’t make up for defensive and late-game mistakes.
Prediction: Clippers in 5

Gm 1 Monday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Gm 2 Wednesday, 6 p.m., TNT
Gm 3 Friday, 6 p.m., TNT
Gm 4 Aug. 23, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 7
Gm 5 Aug. 25, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 27, TBD, ESPN*
Gm 7 Aug. 29, TBD, TNT*

No. 3 DENVER
46-27
OFF RTG 112.6, DEF RTG 110.4

No. 6 UTAH
44-28
OFF RTG 111.8, DEF RTG 109.3

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Season series: Denver 3-0
Outlook: The Nuggets would’ve been a tough matchup for anyone before discovering that Michael Porter Jr. was ready for more minutes and more offensive responsibilities. When healthy, they might be the deepest team in the conference, but they could be vulnerable with Will Barton and Gary Harris sidelined.
Prediction: Denver in 6

The Clippers’ long-anticipated attempt at winning an NBA title with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George begins Monday with a playoff series against Dallas.

Gm 1 Monday, 10:30 a.m., ESPN
Gm 2 Wednesday, 1 p.m., TNT
Gm 3 Friday, 1 p.m., TNT
Gm 4 Aug. 23, 6 p.m., TNT
Gm 5 Aug. 25, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 27, TBD, ESPN*
Gm 7 Aug. 29, TBD, TNT*

No. 4 HOUSTON
44-28
OFF RTG 112.5, DEF RTG 109.8

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No. 5 OKLAHOMA CITY
44-28
OFF RTG 110.1, DEF RTG 108.1

Houston's James Harden puts up a shot past Sacramento on Aug. 9, 2020.
Houston’s James Harden puts up a shot against Sacramento on Aug. 9.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Season series: Oklahoma City 2-1
Outlook: Chris Paul still can steam when he talks about being traded to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook last offseason, but it might’ve been the best thing for him. He’s been able to be the conductor of an offense again, and the Thunder have been a big surprise. Houston’s got more star power and almost certainly will get killed on the glass. This should be the most competitive series in the West.
Prediction: Houston in 7

Gm 1 Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Gm 2 Thursday, 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Gm 3 Aug. 22, 3 p.m., ESPN
Gm 4 Aug. 24, 1 p.m., TNT
Gm 5 Aug. 26, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 28, TBD*
Gm 7 Aug. 30, TBD*

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 MILWAUKEE
56-17
OFF RTG 111.9, DEF RTG 102.5

No. 8 ORLANDO
33-40
OFF RTG 107.9, DEF RTG 109.2

The Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo blocks a shot by the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo blocks a shot by Dallas’ Luka Doncic.
(Kevin C. Cox / Associated Press)
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Season series: Milwaukee 4-0
Outlook: Since losing a 2-0 lead to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals last year, the Bucks have been the NBA’s best team largely because they have the best player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. They’re a defensive juggernaut and should lock up Orlando’s so-so offense without much trouble.
Prediction: Bucks in 4

Gm 1 Tuesday, 10:30 a.m., TNT
Gm 2 Thursday, 3 p.m., ESPN
Gm 3 Aug. 22, 10 a.m., TNT
Gm 4 Aug. 24, 10:30 a.m., NBATV
Gm 5 Aug. 26, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 28, TBD*
Gm 7 Aug. 30, TBD*

No. 2 TORONTO
53-19
OFF RTG 110.8, DEF RTG 104.7

No. 7 BROOKLYN
35-37
OFF RTG 108.7, DEF RTG 109.2

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Season series: Toronto 3-1
Outlook: These teams do a lot of the same things — play with heart, defy expectations because of effort and intensity. The major difference is that Toronto has much better players. Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol . . . the talent gap is just so wide. The Nets have had a nice run in the bubble, but the Raptors can go to another level.
Prediction: Toronto in 4

Gm 1 Monday, 1 p.m., ESPN
Gm 2 Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., NBATV
Gm 3 Friday, 10:30 a.m., NBATV
Gm 4 Aug. 23, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Gm 5 Aug. 25, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 27, TBD, ESPN*
Gm 7 Aug. 29, TBD, TNT*

The Brooklyn Nets have accomplished a lot under interim coach Jacque Vaughn, but things would change quickly if Gregg Popovich becomes their coach.

No. 3 BOSTON
48-24
OFF RTG 112.8, DEF RTG 106.5

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No. 6 PHILADELPHIA
43-30
OFF RTG 110.7, DEF RTG 108.4

The Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward drives on the Memphis Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks.
The Celtics’ Gordon Hayward drives against the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks on Tuesday.
(Mike Ehrmann / Associated Press)

Season series: Philadelphia 3-1
Outlook: Two months ago, if forced to choose between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons or Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, you’d have taken the 76ers duo, right? Now? That choice is a lot tougher, especially with another injury costing Simmons a chance to help Philadelphia break through. Embiid is good enough to win some games, but four seems like too much to ask.
Prediction: Boston in 6

Gm 1 Monday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Gm 2 Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Gm 3 Friday, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Gm 4 Aug. 23, 10 a.m., Ch. 7
Gm 5 Aug. 25, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 27, TBD, ESPN*
Gm 7 Aug. 29, TBD, TNT*

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No. 4 INDIANA
45-28
OFF RTG 109.5, DEF RTG 107.5

No. 5 MIAMI
44-29
OFF RTG 111.9, DEF RTG 109.3

Season series: Miami 3-1
Outlook: The Pacers are continually underappreciated. And it’s about to happen again. T.J. Warren has been one of the best scorers in the bubble, and Victor Oladipo should only get more comfortable as he spends more time on the court. But the Heat feel like a team with a legit claim at contender status. They have so much defensive versatility and a lot of balance on offense. This should be a good series.
Prediction: Miami in 6

Gm 1 Tuesday, 1 p.m., TNT
Gm 2 Thursday, 10 a.m., ESPN
Gm 3 Aug. 22, 12:30 p.m., TNT
Gm 4 Aug. 24, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Gm 5 Aug. 26, TBD*
Gm 6 Aug. 28, TBD*
Gm 7 Aug. 30, TBD*


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