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Heat begin another title defense Sunday

<p>New York, NY (Sports Network) - The Miami Heat's quest for a three-peat begins Sunday.</p>

New York, NY (Sports Network) - The Miami Heat's quest for a three-peat begins Sunday.

Reigning MVP LeBron James and the second-seeded Heat will begin another NBA title defense when they host the Charlotte Bobcats in Game 1 at 3:30 p.m. (et). The Heat swept the season series.

Miami is limping into the playoffs, dropping five of its last six games to close the season. It's a different script from a year ago when the Heat finished 66-16, which included a 27-game winning streak. They closed the season with eight straight victories in 2013.

The Heat, though, won their first of two titles in 2012 as a two seed and losing three of four going into the postseason.

Miami's main threat in the East is also struggling heading into the postseason. The top-seeded Indiana Pacers, who lost six of their last 10 games and will host the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. (et), have seen their season end at the hands of the Heat the last two seasons.

Indiana lost a hard-fought seven-game series to Miami in last year's Eastern Conference Finals and fell in six games to the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Hawks secured the East's last playoff spot with a win over Miami on Saturday.

The fourth-seeded Bulls appeared destined to miss the postseason when Derrick Rose went down early with another knee injury and the team traded away forward Luol Deng. But Chicago finished 34-18 since dealing away Deng, including a 21-9 mark since the All-Star break. The Bulls will host the Washington Wizards on Sunday at 7 p.m. (et). The John Wall-led Wizards are in the postseason for the first time in six years.

In the 3-6 matchup in the East, the Toronto Raptors will host the Brooklyn Nets, with the series beginning on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (et). The Raptors are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, while Brooklyn fell to the sixth seed following its loss at Cleveland. The Nets went 34-17 since the start of the new year.

The defending Western Conference champions and top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, who had the NBA's best record at 62-20, host the Dallas Mavericks to open up their playoff slate on Sunday at 1 p.m. (et).

This will be the sixth time since 2001 that these in-state rivals have met in the postseason. San Antonio won three of the previous series.

Kevin Durant's driving dunk with 16.5 seconds remaining Wednesday sent the Oklahoma City Thunder to a regular season-ending 112-111 win over the Detroit Pistons, clinching the second seed. They will face the Memphis Grizzlies, who edged Dallas in overtime earlier Wednesday to give them the seventh seed. That series begins Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. (et).

Memphis, which began the season 13-17 while dealing with a plethora of injuries, finished 37-15. The Grizzlies knocked off the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals last season before getting swept by San Antonio in the West Finals.

The third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, who set a franchise record in wins for a second straight season, host the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (et). The Stephen Curry-led Warriors are a sixth seed again after knocking off the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last year's playoffs.

Finally, in the 4-5 matchup out West, the Houston Rockets will host the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in the postseason for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Houston, which won the season series 3-1, host Portland on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. (et).

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