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(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's Paul Millsap drives around Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki as the Jazz host the Mavericks at EnergySolutions Arena Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 in Salt Lake City.
NBA: Let the playoffs begin
NBA playoffs » The Western Conference is best (again), but even the Eastern Conference offers up some intriguing first-round matchups.
First Published Apr 18 2014 02:29 pm • Last Updated Apr 18 2014 10:13 pm

During the regular NBA season, the league split itself decidedly between the haves and have-nots.

There is the Western Conference, where seven of the eight playoff participants won 50 games, and things weren’t settled until the very last day of the regular season. Then there’s the woeful East, where the Phoenix Suns would be tied for the third seed.

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In the west, the Suns didn’t make the playoffs.

That’s how lopsided the NBA’s two halves were this season. Will that spill into the postseason? Is every west playoff series intriguing? Is each series in the east going to be a bore?

That probably won’t be the case. Simply, there’s notthing like the NBA playoffs, when the best basketball players on the planet compete for a championship. Our first-round analysis and picks:

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Indiana (56-26) vs. No. 8 Atlanta (38-44)

Opener: Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN

Breakdown: On paper, this seems like a mismatch, but the Hawks actually play the Pacers well. Jeff Teague is a headache to play against and former Jazz Paul Millsap has had a career year for Atlanta. But Indiana is too big, too physical and too powerful in the paint for the Hawks to deal with. Eventually, the Pacers will wear Atlanta down inside and advance to the second round.

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Prediction: Pacers in 6

No. 4 Chicago (48-34) vs. No. 5 Washington (44-38)

Opener: Sunday, 5 p.m., TNT

Breakdown: Don’t get too giddy Bulls fans. John Wall and Brad Beal are one of the most dynamic young backcourts in the league, and they could make this very interesting. One problem, though: The Bulls may be the best defensive team in the league, and the all-around skills of center Joakim Noah will make life difficult on Washington. With homecourt advantage look for Chicago to make it out.

Prediction: Bulls in 6

No. 3 Toronto (48-34) vs. No. 6 Brooklyn (44-38)

Opener: Saturday, 10:30 a.m., ESPN

Breakdown: You have to love pre-series trash talk, and this matchup has had it in spades already. The Nets have been one of the best teams in the league since January 1st, and they look like one of the teams that could possibly beat the Miami Heat. But the Raptors are so athletic. Demar Derozen has emerged as a star, and Kyle Lowry has had a great season at the point. This should be fun.

Prediction: Nets in 7

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