San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns

Seeds, records: 1. San Antonio (60-22) vs. 8. Phoenix (44-38).

Streaking: The Suns have lost two in a row. The Spurs have won 12 of 14.

Season series: Phoenix, 3-1.

Top guns: San Antonio ÑÊTim Duncan, 23.3 points, 12.9 rebounds; Tony Parker, 15.5 points, 5.3 assists. Phoenix ÑÊStephon Marbury, 22.7 points, 8.2 assists; Shawn Marion, 21.5 points, 9.7 rebounds.

Key matchup: Marbury vs. Parker.

X factor: Amare Stoudemire. Suns super-rook must have at least some success negating Duncan.

The skinny: Phoenix's only loss in the series was in overtime. That means something, but these are the playoffs. The Spurs have much more depth and a superstar in Duncan.

The pick: Spurs in six.

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Seeds, records: 4. Minnesota (51-31) vs. 5. L.A. Lakers (50-32).

Streaking: The Timberwolves have won three in a row. The Lakers have won 11 of 13.

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Top guns: Minnesota ÑÊKevin Garnett, 23.0 points, 13.4 rebounds; Wally Szczerbiak, 17.6 points, 4.6 rebounds. Lakers ÑÊKobe Bryant, 29.8 points, 6.9 rebounds; Shaquille O'Neal, 27.5 points, 11.1 rebounds.

Key matchup: Garnett against Mark Madsen and Samaki Walker.

X factor: Target Center.

The skinny: The Timberwolves have the edge at both forward spots but nowhere else. They must hope homecourt advantage is pivotal Ñ the Lakers were only 19-22 on the road. But Minnesota has no answer for Kobe and Shaq.

The pick: Lakers in six.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Seeds, records: 3. Dallas (60-22) vs. 6. Portland (50-32).

Streaking: The Mavericks have lost four of eight. The Blazers have lost eight of 14.

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Top guns: Dallas ÑÊDirk Nowitzki, 25.1 points, 9.9 rebounds; Steve Nash, 17.9 points, 7.3 assists. Portland ÑÊRasheed Wallace, 18.2 points, 7.4 rebounds; Bonzi Wells, 15.1 points, 5.2 rebounds.

Key matchup: Wallace vs. Nowitzki.

X factor: Michael Finley, less than 100 percent and just back from a 13-game absence with a strained left hamstring.

The skinny: Both teams have stumbled down the stretch. Mavericks are potent offensively but woeful defensively and in the rebounding department. Finley played in the final two games after missing 13 with a hamstring injury, and his health could play a major role in the series.

The pick: Blazers in seven.

Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz

Seeds, records: 2. Sacramento (59-23) vs. 7. Utah (47-35).

Streaking: The Kings have won 13 of 15. The Jazz have lost five of seven.

Season series: Sacramento, 3-1.

Top guns: Sacramento ÑÊChris Webber 23.1 points, 10.6 rebounds; Peja Stojakovic ÑÊ19.3 points, 5.5 rebounds. Utah ÑÊKarl Malone 20.7 points, 7.8 rebounds; John Stockton, 10.9 points, 7.7 assists.

Key matchup: Stockton vs. Mike Bibby.

X factor: Matt Harpring.

The skinny: Jerry Sloan played his starters negligibly in a 95-84 loss to Sacramento in their meaningless regular-season finale. Before that, the Kings' two wins over Utah were by two points and by three in overtime. In last year's playoffs, Sacramento beat Utah 3-1, but the Kings' victories came by only three, three and five points. This series could be just as hard-fought. The Jazz need Harpring to step up and play major role.

The pick: Kings in five.

ÑÊKerry Eggers

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