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NBA

Heat Check: Breaking down first round NBA Playoff matchups

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Stephen Curry, Ben Simmons, James Harden [NBA Getty Images]

The NBA Playoff bracket is officially set! Enter here for a chance to win a million dollars and a trip to the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago as part of the Bracket Challenge presented by Tangerine.

As each first round series got underway, our NBA.com staff broke down the first round matchups, the most intriguing storylines and which teams we feel have a shot at pulling off the improbable first round upset.

Take a look...

Most intriguing first round storyline

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Will Golden State wake up from its season-long slumber?

Yes, the Warriors are the 1-seed in the highly competitive Western Conference. But they haven't played like the Warriors in what feels like several months. I'll be most curious to see if they come out firing on all cylinders or they continue to go through the motions.

Outside of a select few games, we really haven't seen the Warriors play to their full potential and string together dominant performances. Two weeks from now, we'll have a much better idea if they are the juggernaut we thought they'd be or if they actually are in store for a potential earlier-than-anticipated exit

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Can the Portland Trail Blazers get out of the first round?

With drawing the Oklahoma City Thunder comes the burden of knowing the season series resulted in a clean sweep in OKC's favour.

'Sweep' is probably a sensitive word for the Blazers, especially in reference to the playoffs. They were swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round last season and swept by the Golden State Warriors in the first round the season before that.

So now, without their defensive anchor and newly offensive-minded centre Jusuf Nurkic, Portland is going to have to defeat the Thunder for the first time this season short handed.

There's still a lot of pressure on this team even with that injury, too. Would a first round exit make their front office believe it's time to blow things up?

I can't wait to watch Damian Lillard go to war for his team every night but will it be enough? We'll find out shortly.

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Which version of the Celtics will show up?

At their best the Celtics look like a team destined for the Finals, but consistency has plagued them all season.

With Gordon Hayward healthy and playing his best basketball in a Celtics uniform, Boston have at times looked every bit the playoff contender, but can they put it together in the post-season?

If they can pick up some early momentum through the first round, Boston are a team no one in the East wants to run into.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): How the Milwaukee Bucks go about their business against the Pistons?

The Bucks haven't won a playoff series since 2001 but this current roster is obviously capable of winning multiple rounds, maybe, even four. So, it would be interesting to see how they beat the Pistons, a team they swept during the regular season.

Will they sneak their way to the Conference semifinals with a series win in six or seven games or will they be more emphatic about it with a series win in four or five games?

As they go deeper into the postseason, how they go about their business in this first round matchup will be critical not only to the expectations from their fans and the media but also to their own confidence.

Most exciting first round matchup

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Chalk has been the name of the game in the Eastern Conference over the last three seasons as the top four seeds have advanced each year.

While that looks likely to play out once again with the powerful quartet of Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston, I'm intrigued by the prospects of Brooklyn giving the 76ers a long series.

Had it not been for a Jimmy Butler game-winning three at the buzzer, the Nets would have won the season series 3-1. And while the 76ers are still somewhat searching for an identity to close out tight games, D'Angelo Russell has staked his claim to being one of this year's elite closers. He's also the type of shifty scoring guard that the 76ers really don't have much of an answer for defensively.

The Nets play hard, have depth and are well coached, the exact type of frisky team that can give more talented teams trouble early on.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Playoff rematches are always fun, so I'm excited to see the Rockets and Jazz go at it again this postseason.

Houston (20-5) and Utah (18-7) are two of the league's hottest teams since the All-Star Break and this is a clash between the league's No. 2 rated offence (Rockets) and the No. 2 rated defence (Jazz) - something's gotta give.

James Harden will need to get crafty to continue his scoring exploits while Donovan Mitchell looks to build upon his magic from last postseason. Chris Paul will be back on a mission after his unfortunate end in 2018 and on the interior, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert will be entrenched in a must-see battle.

This one's got all the makings of a classic series.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Since my colleague, Gilbert picked the Rockets-Jazz series while sticking to the basis of form, I'm going to pick the Raptors-Magic matchup.

Since the All-Star break, both teams are two of six teams to be in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. At 15-8, both teams are tied for the sixth-best record since the break.

It's the Magic's first postseason appearance since 2012 and only the second (of possible six) playoff appearance for head coach Steve Clifford.

The Magic might not go on to upset the Raptors but I just believe it will be an exciting series to watch since the Magic have nothing to lose whereas, expectation-wise, the same can't be said for the team from Canada.

Who could pull off a first round upset?

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): I'm not 100% convinced that Houston is getting by Utah.

No team ended the season on a better note than the Jazz who won 13 of the final 15 games they played with Donovan Mitchell in the lineup with all but two of those wins coming by double figures. Though it's a rematch of their meeting in last year's Conference Semifinals, Mitchell has progressed while Rudy Gobert remains the best rim protector in the league.

While everyone will harp on the fact that the Rockets falling to the 4-seed over the final two days of the regular season puts them on the same side of the bracket as Golden State, perhaps more alarming is the opening round series against a much stiffer opponent than they would have faced otherwise.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I feel like picking on the Nuggets has become common, but I'm doing it anyway - give me the San Antonio Spurs.

Denver has been one of the best teams in the NBA all season long, I'm not taking that away from them. They're also one of the most inexperienced teams in the playoffs, and I don't like the way that lines up against head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.

Do the Nuggets have more talent? Yes. Are they deeper than San Antonio? Yup.

But something about the veteran presence of the Spurs and the list key of players on that roster who have played in big playoff games before gives me a good feeling about them.

Pop will have his troops ready to go and Denver will need to bring their A-game to get out of Round 1.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Is it an upset if the regular-season series was a sweep?

Regardless of the answer to that question, I like the sixth-seeded Thunder's chances to advance past the No. 3 seed Blazers in the first round. OKC's last loss to Portland came in March of 2018 and that was with Jusuf Nurkic playing.

With Bosnian Beast sitting out this time and C.J. McCollum not being at 100%, the star power of Russell Westbrook and Paul George will be too much for the Blazers to overcome.

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): The Nets have nothing to lose!

The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers split the season series through their four meetings, with no shortage of entertainment. From Jimmy Butler's game-winner to some monster scoring performances from Spencer Dinwiddie, D'Angelo Russell and Joel Embiid, expect fireworks when these teams play.

The Nets are as plucky as they come and with their youthful confidence, led by Russell, they won't be afraid of the big moments. Russell has made a habit of knocking down clutch shots this season, so I won't be surprised if he wins the Nets a game in the same fashion.

The fate of the series could ultimately come down to the health of Embiid. He torched the Nets for 39 points in their final meeting of the regular season and with reports he may not be ready in time for Game 1, his absence could give the series a very different look.

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