For the Detroit Pistons, who beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the finals last season, the dream of a "Threepeat" could end before it even gets started.
The Blazers, whose 63 regular-season wins led the NBA, avoided the embarrassment of first-round elimination in the playoffs by routing Seattle 119-107 Saturday.But the Pistons remain in danger.
Detroit, which breezed through the first round of the playoffs en route to the NBA title each of the past two years, face elimination Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks in the fifth and deciding game of their first-round series.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics, the Atlantic Division champions, face the same situation at the Boston Garden against the Indiana Pacers. Both series are tied 2-2.
Should the Celtics lose, it would mark the third straight year that the NBA's most titled franchise fails to advance into the second round. The Celtics, winners of 16 NBA titles, lost to Detroit two years ago, then lost to the New York Knicks last year after leading 2-0.
The Hawks tied the series with Detroit by pulling away in the last five minutes Thursday for a 123-111 win that set up Sunday's game.
"I don't know why we make things so hard on ourselves," Detroit's Dennis Rodman said. "It's like putting pressure on an engine that doesn't have much oil. We put a lot of strain on ourselves."
While the Hawks and Celtics face sudden death, that other perennial playoff team, the Los Angeles Lakers, opens their Western Conference semifinal series at home against Golden State. The Warriors, playing without a true center, upset David Robinson and San Antonio three games to one, the final victory Friday night's 110-97 decision.
Chicago, meanwhile, opened its Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday with a 105-92 win over Philadelphia, as Michael Jordan scored 29 points and Scottie Pippen had 24. Charles Barkley had 34 for Philadelphia, which trailed by double figures most of the game.
The Detroit-Atlanta game may be decided in the backcourt, where the Hawks have matched the Pistons' trio of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinny Johnson with Doc Rivers, John Battle, Spud Webb and Sidney Moncrief. The 33-year-old Moncrief scored 14 of his 23 points in the final five minutes in Thursday night's victory.
Indiana's chances appear to lie with Chuck Person, who had 39 points last Sunday at Boston, then was held to 6 at Indianapolis on Wednesday. Larry Bird, hampered by a bad back, couldn't stop him Friday night.
"Larry knows that I'm gonna be in his dreams tonight and tomorrow night and he knows I'm coming for him in the Garden," said Person, who hasn't been shy about expressing his feelings.
The Lakers, who swept Houston in three games, must find a way to deal with Golden State's unique four-guard lineup. Los Angeles point guard Magic Johnson, at 6-foot-9, is taller than any player the Warriors had on the floor for most of Friday night's win over San Antonio.