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Current Eastern Conference playoff matchups

The National Basketball Association’s regular season is coming to a close. While all the playoff spots are not technically locked up in the Eastern Conference, only one appears to be in real doubt. The Brooklyn Nets are tenuously holding onto the eighth and final seed but are being chased by both the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, who are a half-game back and one in the loss column.

The other seven seeds seem all but set, with most of the playoff matchups looking ready for concrete. Here is how each one would play out today, with a little analysis injected.

(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

This is basically practice for Atlanta, who should pummel Brooklyn or any other team that sneaks into the playoffs. The Hawks are quietly one of the best stories in the league this year, pounding their opponents into submission en route to a top seed. Brooklyn has talent but is old and slow, something that Atlanta will take full advantage of. The only potentially dangerous matchup is if the Pacers have a healthy Paul George. The Hawks are still the heavy favorite, but an upset would be possible.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Miami Heat

The NBA could not have asked for more. Miami is not a team capable of bringing Cleveland to a seventh game or anything like that, but having LeBron James playing against his former team in the first round is a beautiful thing. The Heat are four-time defending conference champs and will lose that mantle to their former superstar, who is looking to bring the Cavaliers back to the forefront. Look for James to have a massive series alongside Kyrie Irving.

(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks

Chicago is wounded but will be on the mend by the playoffs with Derrick Rose slated to return and Jimmy Butler already back. With Rose and Butler actually healthy and in the lineup, Milwaukee has no chance of beating the Bulls. In fact, there is a legitimate chance Chicago could sweep the Bucks, who are reeling over the past month. Milwaukee is an up-and-coming team in the East with young talent, but it is going to learn a hard lesson from the Bulls.

(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards

Neither one of these teams are playing well over the last few months, so this could be a chance for one to get rolling again before a likely second-round matchup with the Hawks. Washington was a trendy pick before the season began to be a darkhorse in the East. However, the Wizards have struggled mightily since Jan. 21 with a mark of 12-20. Toronto has been 16-16 over the span, so the men north of the border haven’t been lighting the world on fire either.

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