Key match-ups

Eastern Conference

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (3) v BROOKLYN NETS (6)

If Philadelphia can find their rhythm and start coming together as a team, they should have a relatively easily time against the Nets, although Joel Embiid's injury status is worrying. Brooklyn are in the play-offs for the first time since 2015, but their best chance to avoid being eliminated in the first round is to hope Embiid's knee issues linger.

BOSTON CELTICS (4) v INDIANA PACERS (5)

Indiana deserve all the credit for securing the fifth seeding, despite losing Victor Oladipo halfway into the season. Even if Boston will not have Marcus Smart, Indiana's roster is not as talented and the Celtics have a 3-1 regular-season record against them and will have home-court advantage. The Pacers can still win the series, but it could take them their best shot.

Western Conference

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (3) v OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (6)

If Portland had not lost the invaluable Jusuf Nurkic to a gruesome leg injury just weeks before the play-offs, they could rank as dark horses for the Finals. Their play-off success could be dependent on Damian Lillard. With Russell Westbrook continuing to perform individual scoring feats, the Thunder's post-season chances cannot be ruled out.

HOUSTON ROCKETS (4) v UTAH JAZZ (5)

James Harden continues to put up dazzling numbers consistently that even his haters have been silenced. Throw in Chris Paul and the Rockets have the best chance of knocking the Golden State Warriors out before the Finals. The Jazz are fairly well balanced, but their main problem is that their offence lags behind most of their rivals in the West.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2019, with the headline 'Key match-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe