The final NBA playoff schedule will be set following the end of the regular season, but most of the teams and some of the matchups are already set. The final day of the regular season will decide the final seed in the Western Conference and multiple first-round pairings in both conferences.
Here is the link to the postseason TV schedule on the various networks (via Sports Media Watch) and some key dates for the postseason:
Playoffs Begin: April 20
Conference Semifinals: May 7
Conference Finals: May 22
NBA Finals: June 6
These are predictions for what the actual matchups will be and who the winner will be.
No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks have the toughest task in basketball: stopping LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
This is one of the biggest mismatches in the playoffs. The bigger question with regard to this series is whether or not the Bucks are able to steal a game. The Heat just have too many weapons to stop. Even if James is somehow minimized, the rest of the Heat are still better than the Bucks.
Winner: Miami Heat
No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
This series has the potential to be the best of the first round. Against any other team, the Celtics would probably be overmatched. Against the slow-paced Knicks, the Celtics have a chance to compete.
The key in this series is Carmelo Anthony and whether or not he can keep up his incredible run of play. Nobody has been able to stop Anthony with the remarkable shots he's been hitting. He will keep it hot during the first round, but not much past that.
Winner: New York Knicks
No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks
The Indiana Pacers have quietly earned the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but they don't seem to be a major threat to the Miami Heat. The Atlanta Hawks aren't as strong as in the past because of the subtraction of Joe Johnson. The Pacers are the more athletic and better overall team in this matchup.
While the Pacers don't play the most attractive style of basketball, they have gotten the job done during the regular season. They are the better team. It will show in a tight series.
Winner: Indiana Pacers
No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls
This series could be flipped on its head should a certain point guard make his season debut. Without Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls still have a good chance to knock off the Nets in this first-round matchup. The Bulls have played incredibly well as a team, coming together without their star and leader.
The X-factor in this series is definitely Deron Williams. The Nets' point guard has the potential to break this matchup open with his scoring ability, but he also might shoot his team right out of games.
Winner: Chicago Bulls
No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets
While the Western Conference is much more talented and balanced than the East, there is still one team that is clearly better than the rest. The Oklahoma City Thunder struggled to fight off the San Antonio Spurs for the top seed, but their overall play makes them the favorite in any seven-game series.
James Harden, the former Thunder player, has a chance to steal a game or two for the Houston Rockets. His scoring and slashing style of play can take over the game.
But overall, the Thunder have too many weapons to lose in the first round. Houston's postseason fate ends by not getting the seventh seed.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers will be without their star, but they still have Dwight Howard to lead them. Against the San Antonio Spurs, Howard and the Lakers actually have a shot to see the second round. If they get matched up against any other team, the Lakers will likely be headed for an early exit.
Howard and Gasol present a tough matchup for the Spurs. If Steve Nash returns, the Lakers have an even better shot to advance to the second round.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
This series should be the best of the first round. Each team has a good shot to get the victory.
Without Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets' title hopes have taken a huge hit. If they had their small forward in the lineup, the Nuggets would definitely be picked to advanced.
It's hard to see the Nuggets losing at home with a 37-3 record so far in the regular season, but the Warriors have the kind of shooting potential to steal a game at the Pepsi Center. Steph Curry has been a beast lately. He pushes his team to the next round.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzles
This series could come down to Game 7 and home-court advantage. That would be the Clippers after they won the Pacific Division for the first time. The Grizzles have the scrappy, physical defenders to challenge the Clippers, but Chris Paul is just too much to handle.
The Grizzles lack a guy that can really take a game over and make sure his team comes out on top. If it's not Paul for the Clippers, Griffin is also capable of dominating stretches to make sure the Clippers get to the next round.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers