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NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 12: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots over Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at the Smoothie King Center on January 12, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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No more tanking teams or resting key players. The 2017-18 NBA postseason will bring out the best in both conferences with one goal in mind—hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

Many casual NBA fans would like to see two new contenders for the title as opposed to a fourth consecutive showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Early in the season, many questioned whether LeBron James and his crew would make it out of the Eastern Conference. Now, there’s concern for the defending champions without Stephen Curry. How will each club fare in the opening round?

Aside from the top three stars in the league who’ve been in the spotlight over the past three campaigns, who else among the league’s best will fall under a microscope in the upcoming postseason? 

Let’s go through the championship odds for each team in the playoff hunt, first-round matchups and early storylines for the 2017-18 postseason.

Latest Championship Odds

1. Golden State Warriors (+140) 

2. Houston Rockets (+202)

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (+855)

4. Toronto Raptors (+1125)

5. Philadelphia 76ers (+1650) 

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (+4000)

7. Portland Trail Blazers (+5500) 

8. Utah Jazz (+7000) 

9. San Antonio Spurs (+10000)

10. Boston Celtics (+10000) 

11. Washington Wizards (+20000)

12. Minnesota Timberwolves (+25000)

13. New Orleans (+25000)

14. Milwaukee Bucks (+25000)

15. Miami Heat (+30000) 

16. Indiana Pacers (+30000) 

*Odds according to OddsShark.com (SportBet)

1st-Round Playoff Predictions 

East Matchups 

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

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

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

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

West Matchups

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

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

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

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

Breaking Down Matchups

Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards in Backcourt Battle 

WASHINGTON, DC -  NOVEMBER 28: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards talks with Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors during the game on November 28, 2015 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by

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Despite the lackluster intrigue in matchups between the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards will feature stellar guard play. The four starting backcourt players in this contest earned All-Star recognition during the current term. John Wall sat out with a knee injury.

There’s also playoff history between the dueling guards in this series:

The Raptors won a franchise-high 59 games with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan running the show together for a sixth consecutive season. In addition to its dynamic pair, Toronto kept Serge Ibaka in the fold after acquiring him from the Orlando Magic during the previous campaign and developed a strong bench. The cumulative result should lead to a first-round series victory over Washington. 

Wall’s return from injury has provided a boost, but the Wizards have struggled with him on the court earlier in the campaign.

It’s still a team that lacks cohesiveness—something head coach Scott Brooks pointed out toward the end of the season, per Washington Post reporter Candace Buckner:

Wall and Bradley Beal will give flashes of hope for the Wizards, but the Raptors take the series in five games as the better team. 

Prediction: Raptors in five games

Golden State Warriors Without Stephen Curry vs. San Antonio Spurs

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 18: Injured point guard Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors supports his team from the bench in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 18, 2016 in Oakland, Cali

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

All four of the Golden State Warriors All-Stars sat out with various injuries down the stretch. They’re all expected to play in the first round except Curry, who continues to recover from an MCL injury, per Yahoo Sports reporter Shams Charania: 

According to head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors’ woes extend beyond Curry’s absence. He’d like to see more attention to detail, specifically on the defensive end:

Outsiders have questioned whether the Warriors, who’ve been to three consecutive NBA Finals and won two, prematurely maxed out on the regular season. Kerr decided to walk back his statement about carelessness and focused on defensive effort. It’s the correct message going up against the San Antonio Spurs, who tied with the Utah Jazz for fewest points allowed per contest during the 2017-18 campaign at 99.8. 

Most notably, Kevin Durant has made a strong effort to use his length when contesting shots in the paint, which bodes well against a Spurs squad that struggles to score. They average 102.7 points and 8.5 three-pointers made per game, which ranks 27th and 28th in the league, respectively.

Without Kawhi Leonard pairing with LaMarcus Aldridge to help in scoring, the Warriors should come out on top with three healthy All-Stars in uniform. 

Prediction: Warriors in six games

               

Anthony Davis Looks for 1st Playoff Win vs. Portland Trail Blazers 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 27: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Smoothie King Center on March 27, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

As a 6’10” big, Anthony Davis can handle the basketball and protect the paint, and he’s steadily extended his shooting range. However, the five-time All-Star doesn’t have a single postseason win, let alone a series victory. 

Davis made his playoff debut at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, but Golden State swept New Orleans en route to an NBA title that year. As a result, critics may give the Pelicans star a pass for his first go-round. 

Now, six years into his career, it’s time for Davis to find some postseason success even on a granular level without his frontcourt running mate DeMarcus Cousins, who’s out with a torn left Achilles.

New Orleans isn’t at full strength without one of its All-Stars, but that doesn’t excuse the league’s second-leading scorer in a 3-6 matchup:

The Blazers have the depth and a dynamic backcourt featuring Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but Davis should win at least one game in this series. The overall loss will frustrate The Brow and Pelicans fans, but it’s something to build on if Cousins re-signs with the team. 

Prediction: Blazers in five games

                  

Other Series Predictions 

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks: Bucks in six games 

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat: Heat in seven games

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers: Cavaliers in five games

No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves: Rockets in five games 

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz: Thunder in seven games

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