Field Level Media: Not often is a No. 4 seed one of the teams to beat in the postseason, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are no ordinary No. 4 seed.
And that’s all thanks to No. 23, LeBron James.
The Cavaliers superstar is looking to guide his team to an eighth consecutive NBA Finals, a total no player has approached aside from the mainstays of the Boston Celtics’ 1950s and ‘60s dynasty.
Cleveland stumbled into fourth place in the East with a 110-98 loss to the visiting New York Knicks on Wednesday in the regular-season finale. As a result, the Cavaliers will open the postseason against the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers.
A look at the NBA first-round playoff matchups.
No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
The Raptors tied the Houston Rockets for the best home record in the league, 34-7. The Wizards struggled down the stretch, losing nine of the last 12, even though guard John Wall was only back from injury to appear in four of those games (while sitting out three others for rest). The teams split four regular-season meetings.
No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
The Celtics spent the whole season without forward Gordon Hayward, who got hurt in the opener, and they recently lost guard Kyrie Irving for the entire postseason. Milwaukee’s star forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was slowed by an ankle injury the past week. Each team won twice in the season series.
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
The 76ers are in the postseason for the first time since 2012 after their notorious “Process” finally paid dividends. They are riding a 16-game winning streak, the longest ever for an NBA team heading into the postseason. The inconsistent Heat managed to win the last two of their four regular-season meetings with Philadelphia.
No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
The Cavaliers remade their roster at midseason, bringing in Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and George Hill. The results were lukewarm. The fact that the Pacers won three of their four meetings with the Cavs this season still isn’t likely to sway most pundits from penciling LeBron and Co. into the second round.
No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Rockets went just 3-3 in April, but considering they were 28-1 from Jan. 29-March 30, there is no doubting their abilities. The Timberwolves had to win their final three games, including a play-in showdown with the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, just to get into the playoff field. Houston swept all four meetings with Minnesota this season.
No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs
The defending champion Warriors figure to be without star guard Stephen Curry (knee) for the entire first-round series, but considering the Spurs are still without Kawhi Leonard (quadriceps), Golden State will remain a heavy favorite. The Warriors won three of the clubs’ four meetings this season.
No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans
The series might have a different feel if Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins hadn’t undergone season-ending foot surgery in January. Still, New Orleans’ Nikola Mirotic averaged 25.8 points and 12 rebounds over the past five games, so he could team with Anthony Davis to provide a formidable big-man duo against a Blazers team led by guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The teams split their four-game regular-season series.
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
After a season of chatter about how the merger of newly arrived stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook wasn’t working, the Thunder still wound up with home-court advantage for the first round of the postseason. However, they must face a Jazz team that is on a 29-6 roll since late January. Oklahoma City won three of four against Utah in the regular season.