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Houston Rockets' James Harden, right, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Zaza Pachulia during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Nobody can accuse the NBA playoffs of being short on storylines. 

James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets have the defending champion Golden State Warriors in their sights in the Western Conference, while the entire Eastern Conference has to deal with LeBron James once again.

Elsewhere, trusting the process has landed the Philadelphia 76ers in the postseason, defending MVP Russell Westbrook has Paul George and Carmelo Anthony by his side on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and individual superstars such as Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo make even the lower seeds dangerous.

With that in mind, here is a look at the schedule for the first round of the NBA playoffs, per NBA.com.

Western Conference

No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

Game 1: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets: April 15 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 2: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets: April 18 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves: April 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 4: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves: April 23 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT

*Game 5: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets: April 25 at TBD

*Game 6: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves: April 27 at TBD

*Game 7: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets: April 29 at TBD

No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

Game 1: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors: April 14 at 3 p.m. ET on ABC

Game 2: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors: April 16 at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs: April 19 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 4: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs: April 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

*Game 5: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors: April 24 at TBD

*Game 6: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs: April 26 at TBD

*Game 7: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors: April 28 at TBD

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans

Game 1: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers: April 14 at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 2: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers: April 17 at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans: April 19 at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV

Game 4: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans: April 21 at 5 p.m. ET on TNT

*Game 5: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers: April 24 at TBD

*Game 6: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans: April 26 at TBD

*Game 7: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers: April 28 at TBD

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Game 1: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder: April 15 at 6:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 2: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder: April 18 at 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV

Game 3: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz: April 21 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 4: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz: April 23 at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT

*Game 5: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder: April 25 at TBD

*Game 6: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz: April 27 at TBD

*Game 7: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder: April 29 at TBD

*If necessary

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards

Game 1: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors: April 14 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 2: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors: April 17 at 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV

Game 3: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards: April 20 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Game 4: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards: April 22 at 6 p.m. ET on TNT

*Game 5: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors: April 25 at TBD

*Game 6: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards: April 27 at TBD

*Game 7: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors: April 29 at TBD

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks

Game 1: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics: April 15 at 1 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 2: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics: April 17 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks: April 20 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 4: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks: April 22 at 1 p.m. ET on ABC

*Game 5: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics: April 24 at TBD

*Game 6: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks: April 26 at TBD

*Game 7: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics: April 28 at TBD

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat

Game 1: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers: April 14 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 2: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers: April 16 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat: April 19 at 7 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 4: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat: April 21 at 2:30 p.m. ET on TNT

*Game 5: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers: April 24 at TBD

*Game 6: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat: April 26 at TBD

*Game 7: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers: April 28 at TBD

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers

Game 1: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers: April 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Game 2: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers: April 18 at 7 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers: April 20 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 4: Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers: April 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT

*Game 5: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers: April 25 at TBD

*Game 6: Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers: April 27 at TBD

*Game 7: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers  April 29 at TBD

           

*If necessary

Storyline to Watch: LeBron James vs. Eastern Conference

James’ team making the NBA Finals has become an annual occurrence in the Eastern Conference, as he has led the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers to seven straight conference crowns.

The precariousness of that dominance, though, makes his run at an eighth straight appearance in the NBA Finals the storyline to watch heading into the postseason.

If there were ever a season when James wouldn’t emerge from the East, it is this one. He is no longer playing with a Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh in Miami or a Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. He has been forced to carry much of the offensive load this season, especially when Kevin Love was out with injury, and Cleveland wouldn’t have home-court advantage against the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers.

The Cavaliers have undergone a significant roster upheaval as well after trading Isaiah Thomas, Wade, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert and acquiring George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson.

James responded to the turnstile roster by taking control and averaging a triple-double in February, with 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists, and following that up with 30.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.5 assists per night in March.

He may be 33 and in his 15th season, but he elevated his game during the season’s stretch run and demonstrated why Cleveland is still a terrifying potential opponent for Toronto, Philadelphia or anyone else in the East.

James has also been the roadblock for the Raptors in the postseason after his Cavaliers swept them last year and beat them in six games in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. Just for good measure, the four-time MVP dropped a reminder of his dominance against Toronto with 35 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds and zero turnovers in a 132-129 comeback victory on March 21.

As for a potential matchup with the Celtics, there are significant health concerns in Boston.

Gordon Hayward has been sidelined since the season-opener with a fractured ankle, Marcus Smart has been dealing with a torn tendon in his thumb, Daniel Theis is out for the season with a knee injury and, most importantly, Irving is done for the season after knee surgery.

That’s not to say James will easily march to another Finals appearance, especially since his Cavaliers have been abysmal throughout the season on defense and are a mere 29th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com.

Whether he can overcome those defensive woes with his individual brilliance will likely determine whether he is once again lacing it up in the NBA Finals.

Bleacher Report – Front Page

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