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The Celtics are going to be fine - and maybe even better - on defense with Irving out of the lineup, but they will need Tatum to step up if they are going to keep pace with the other high-powered teams in the Eastern Conference. That marks the sport's most-watched regular season since 2013-14, boding well for the Finals. The four-time All-Star tore his meniscus in their second matchup on February 23, then missed the final two meetings before returning on Friday.

ROCKETS' TOUGH ROAD - Houston posted the league's best record (65-17), and it's hard to bet against a team that has James Harden.

An increase in competitiveness spiked the interest of the casual National Basketball Association fan this past regular season. If the Timberwolves can ride that momentum - and it's entirely possible, with Jimmy Butler coming back from a knee injury - they could make things real interesting. The Rockets, meanwhile, lost key defender Luc Mbah a Moute to a dislocated shoulder on Tuesday, and he's expected to miss the first round-if not longer.

Rockets/Timberwolves vs. Thunder/Jazz-If the Rockets advance to this round, they will host the series.

The Warriors still boast the same core of outstanding players that went all the way to the championship a year ago, making them the favourites to go back to back this season. The Thunder could be the surprise team that emerges from the loaded West.




Golden State Warriors (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7) - This is a rematch of last year's Western Conference finals in name alone, as Golden State is without two-time MVP Stephen Curry this time around and the Spurs' franchise missing marquee player, Kawhi Leonard, remains out after playing just nine games this season.

The Warriors are definitely stronger now with Kevin Durant onboard, but Curry is still the leader of the team's offense. The rule for determining home court advantage in the NBA Finals is winning percentage, then head to head record, followed by record vs. opposite conference.

In recent years, playoff teams have been hurt on offense by a player who is a non-entity from beyond the three-point line, and it will be interesting to see if Simmons also negatively impacts the 76ers in that way. Season head-to-head, Houston, 4-0. Whenver Joel Embiid, the electrifying second-year center who missed his first two full years to injury, is healthy, the 76ers instantly become a contender.

To give us a hand, we had a chat with our pals over at The Starters (Leigh Ellis, Trey Kerby, J.E. Skeets, and Tas Melas) the day after the season ended when they were fresh off their end-of-season awards show, The Starties, and primed for the playoffs (which they'll cover every weeknight on NBA TV). He's still the guy you start with if building a championship-ready roster.

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