Thu, Apr 13, 3:21pm by Senior Writer
An easy win by the Indiana Pacers on the last day of the regular season has earned them a shot at the playoffs with their next opponents, the reigning champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Indiana’s 104-86 win over an understrength Atlanta Hawks was enough for them to claim seventh seeding in the East, but the Cavs late-season slump meant they gave up top spot and will now face the Pacers.
Cleveland rested and rotated players during the run into the playoffs and ended up losing their final four matches, including the final day matchup with Toronto. That win allowed the Raptors to join the Cavs on a 51-31 record, and they finish in third.
The Boston Celtics topped the Eastern Conference for the first time in nine years thanks to their win over Milwaukee on Thursday which took them to 53-29, their best season record since 2010-11.
They now play the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls, a team they last met in the playoffs nine years ago after the Bulls edged out the Miami Heat, after both had 41-41 records.
The Raptors ended their season on a four-match winning streak and now confront the Bucks in the first round, while the other match-up in the East sees the Washington Wizards , who finished fourth, play the Atlanta Hawks in a best of seven series.
The most anticipated Western Conference first round showdown will be between the teams of the two leading MVP candidates, with James Harden’s Houston Rockets to play Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets won three of the four match ups between the teams this season, and much of the focus will be on whether Westbrook, who has averaged a triple double throughout the season, can lift his side to a playoffs win in their first season since Kevin Durant’s departure.
The Golden State Warriors, Durant’s current employer, remain the $1.80 favourites for the title after sewing up top spot in the west with a 67-15 season, six wins shy of their record-breaking 2015-16 campaign.
They play the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, the team they beat 4-1 in the conference semi-finals last year.
The San Antonio Spurs make their 20th consecutive appearance in the playoffs, claiming second seed in the West despite losing their final three games.
Gregg Popovich’s team play the Memphis Grizzlies, who they thrashed 4-0 in the first round 12 months ago. Their four matches this season were split 2-2 with the home side winning each game.
There will be five Aussies involved in the playoffs, with Utah Jazz pair Joe Ingles and Dante Exum to get a taste of the action, joining Bucks pair Matthew Dellavedova and Thom Maker as well as Spurs guard Patty Mills.
The Jazz finished in fifth spot, losing home court advantage to the fourth-placed Los Angeles Clippers in the final game of the year.
The Clippers go into the series on a seven-match winning streak, the best of any team in the playoffs.
With the Warriors championship price of $1.80 barely moving all season, the Cavs remain second pick at $3.50, with the Spurs at $7. The Celtics are priced at $17, the Rockets at $19 and the Clippers and Rockets at $26.
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