Basketball

Cavs stumble to fourth, but counting on James for eighth straight NBA

Not often is a No. 4 seed one of the teams to beat in the post-season, 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 yesterday morning (Singapore time) in the regular-season finale. As a result, the Cavaliers will open the post-season against the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers.

A look at the NBA first-round play-off match-ups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Toronto Raptors v 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. The teams split four regular-season meetings.

No. 2 Boston Celtics v 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 post-season. 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 v No. 6 Miami Heat

The 76ers are in the post-season for the first time since 2012. They are riding a 16-game winning streak. The Heat managed to win the last two of their four regular-season meetings with Philadelphia.

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers v No.5 Indiana Pacers

The Cavaliers remade their roster at mid-season, 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 still isn't likely to sway most pundits from pencilling LeBron and Co into the second round.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Houston Rockets v 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 just to get into the play-off field. Houston swept all four meetings with Minnesota.

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

The defending champions 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 heavy favourites. The Warriors won three of the clubs' four meetings.

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

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 v No. 5 Utah Jazz

The Thunder still wound up with home-court advantage for the first round of the post-season. 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. - REUTERS

Basketball