Heat start defending title on Sunday

Reigning MVP LeBron James and the top-seeded Miami Heat will begin their NBA title defense when they host the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday at 7 p.m. (et).

After earning his first championship ring last year, James is looking to add to his collection, as he led the Heat to a league-best 66-16 record, which included a 27-game winning streak, the second longest of all-time.

Awaiting them in quarterfinal action will be Brandon Jennings and the rest of the struggling Milwaukee Bucks, who have won just four of their last 16 games and enter as the eighth seed, holding the worst record (38-44) among all playoff teams.

New York, a seventh-seeded first round victim of the Heat last year, come into this postseason with much higher expectations, as Carmelo Anthony guided the Knicks to a No. 2 seed and their first Atlantic Division crown in 19 years.

The Knicks will look to avenge a 2011 four-game series sweep suffered to the Boston Celtics when the two division rivals square off for a set beginning on Saturday at 3 p.m. (et).

The seventh-seeded Celtics, led by Paul Pierce and a core of veterans, haven't had All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (torn ACL) since midseason and lost the season series to New York, 3-1, for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign.

In the 3-6 matchup in the East, the Indiana Pacers will host the Atlanta Hawks, with the series beginning on Sunday at 1 p.m. (et).

The Pacers captured their first Central Division title in nine seasons, despite having five-time leading scorer Danny Granger for just five games. Paul George became an All-Star in Granger's absence, but Indiana has struggled down the stretch, dropping five of six.

The Hawks traded seven-time leading scorer Joe Johnson this past offseason, but are back in the playoffs for the sixth straight time behind the guidance of Al Horford and Josh Smith. Atlanta and Indiana split its season series.

After acquiring Johnson and re-signing Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace, the Brooklyn Nets are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season as a four-seed, and will host the Chicago Bulls for a set starting on Saturday at 8 p.m. (et).

Chicago was the East's top seed the last two seasons, but have played the entire year without former MVP Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in the Bulls' opening game of the playoffs last year. Nevertheless, head coach Tom Thibodeau guided the Bulls to a 45-win season as a No. 5 seed, and took three of four from Brooklyn this season.

The Thunder, seeded No. 1 in the West, captured its third straight division crown and will meet a familiar face in James Harden and the Houston Rockets in a first round matchup beginning Sunday at 9:30 p.m. (et).

Oklahoma City reached the Finals last year before bowing out to Heat in five games. Just prior to the season, the Thunder traded Harden to the Rockets, and has helped morph Houston into one of the top offenses in the league.

The Spurs lost to the Thunder in last year's conference finals, but came back this season to earn a No. 2 seed behind 36-year-old Tim Duncan's best play in three years.

San Antonio will kickoff its postseason on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (et) against the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers, whose turbulent season began with high expectations and ended with them just squeaking into the playoffs.

Plagued by injuries all year -- including Bryant's recent torn Achilles tendon -- the Lakers floated around the .500 mark most of the campaign, but won eight of their last nine to get in as a No. 7 seed.

The Denver Nuggets hold the best home record at 38-3, helping them earn the third seed and a matchup with the young Golden State Warriors, beginning Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (et).

Denver's Ty Lawson leads the most prolific scoring team in the league against sharp-shooting fourth-year guard Stephen Curry, who has the Warriors back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, when they upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks as an eight seed.

Finally, in the 4-5 matchup in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies bring identical records into a playoff series starting Saturday at 10:30 p.m. (et).

Both teams finished 56-26, each winning 32 contests at home, but the Clippers earned the fourth-spot by claiming their first-ever Pacific Division title. Memphis comes in as the best defensive team in the league, allowing just 89.3 points per game.