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Sunday April 29, 2012

Win or bust for James and Heat as playoffs begin

LOS ANGELES: The Miami Heat and LeBron James begin an all-or-nothing campaign for an NBA title while defending champion Dallas Mavericks and Kirk Nowitzki face a tough start to the opening weekend of the playoffs.

Second seed Miami (46-20) host the New York Knicks (36-30) and high-scoring Carmelo Anthony in their first-round opener on Saturday as Dallas (36-30) go up against second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19).

Eight playoff series kick off on Saturday and Sunday as the grind of a 66-game NBA season compacted by the league’s labor contract dispute gives way to the spotlight of best-of-seven series on the road to the title.       

Eastern Conference top seed Chicago Bulls (50-16) play the Philadelphia 76ers (35-31), and their Western Conference counterparts San Antonio Spurs (50-16) take on the Utah Jazz (36-30) in a series opener on Sunday.       

After James joined fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh prior to last season to form a Big Three in Miami, the trio hoped to bring a bundle of NBA titles to South Beach.

The partnership nearly paid immediate dividends before Nowitzki and the Mavs denied them in the Finals in six games.

Now, nothing less than the NBA crown will validate the 2011-2012 campaign as a success for the Heat.

James, a leading candidate for MVP honours after averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists. — Reuters

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