The journey to the NBA Finals is set to begin. The defending champion Miami Heat enter the playoffs as favorites to repeat, but there are 15 teams hoping to end their title reign at one. It all starts with some intriguing first-round matchups.
What makes the playoffs great, especially after a couple weeks of superstars resting and half-strength teams taking the court, is the intensity. There's a battle for every rebound and every loose ball because it could be the difference between advancing or going home.
There should be no shortage of drama starting on Saturday. With that in mind, let's take a look at the key information for the upcoming schedule followed by a breakdown of the top series fans will get to watch in the opening round.
2013 NBA Playoffs Schedule
When: Playoffs begin Saturday, April 20
Watch: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, NBA TV
First Round: Click here for all dates, times and TV info
Complete Listing: Full Postseason Schedule (via Sports Media Watch)
Top First-Round Matchups
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Scoring champion Carmelo Anthony leads the Knicks into a rivalry matchup with the Celtics. It doesn't matter what sport it is; when teams from these two cities face off, especially in the postseason, it's always going to generate a lot of buzz.
The Celtics have been forced to play a majority of the season without star point guard Rajon Rondo. The good news is that they have had time to adapt with Paul Pierce taking on a bigger role in leading the offense. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Kevin Garnett get more involved in the playoffs.
New York holds the edge thanks to the scoring tandem of Anthony and J.R. Smith as well as the team's seventh-ranked defense. Yet, Boston has good depth and should be able to turn it into a long series. The Knicks can't afford to look past Round 1.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The absence of Kobe Bryant takes a little bit of the luster away from these Western Conference counterparts, but it's still Spurs vs. Lakers. The two franchises have had plenty of memorable battles over the years and this will be the latest chapter.
For the Lakers, they need Dwight Howard to assert himself as the go-to superstar right away. After watching Bryant carry the load for most of the season, it won't be an easy transition to make. Having Steve Nash available, who's listed as questionable by USA Today, would help him get more easy looks.
The Spurs are hoping to prove they have another title run left in the tank. The veteran group, which has been bolstered by the emergence of Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, still has enough talent. Whether it can hold up over a couple months of grind-it-out basketball is what we're about to find out.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls
Brooklyn's attempt to build a title-contending team will get its first real test against the Bulls. The status of Derrick Rose continues to dominate headlines, but Chicago reached the No. 5 seed without its star point guard and has proven it can win without him.
It's mostly due to a terrific amount of depth. The Bulls don't have a true go-to scorer like most teams in the playoffs, but they feature nine players averaging at least seven points per game. That's a lot of different options on the offensive end no matter who's in the game.
The Nets will counter with a more star-studded group. Deron Williams, who's been playing some of his best basketball of the season recently, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson will be tough for the Bulls to slow down. They still need role players to step up in order to advance, though.
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