5. No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32) vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers (48-34)
These two clashed in the first-round last year. That Pacers team featured Paul George, while Kyrie Irving still sliced through defenses for the Cavaliers. 12 months and a handful of major trades later and they deploy completely reconstructed rosters.
Victor Oladipo stepped in as the alpha dog for Indiana and went from probable overpaid bust to an All-Star do-it-all dynamo. Even still, it’s difficult to look at the Pacers roster and reckon how they found so much success this season, especially with Myles Turner going through injuries and a down year.
The Cavaliers filled out their team with support players in Irving’s stead, opting for depth over another star. It’s been a good look for the Cavs, with contributions coming from any number of guys on a given night. Of course, it all starts and ends with LeBron James. I could wax hyperbolic about LeBron all day. I think he just played his finest season at 33 years-old and Cleveland has a legit shot at winning the Finals just because he wears their jersey.
The Pacers could sneak in a couple wins to make things interesting, but this should be a ramp-up series for LeBron and a chance for the new, young Cavaliers to get their playoff sea legs.
Prediction: Indiana is the only Eastern playoff team Cleveland has losing record against. The Cavaliers have LeBron James. Cavs in five.
Game 1 between the Cavaliers and Pacers will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 15. ABC will have the national telecast from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.