Our NBA writer, Mike McGraw, offers his assessment of the playoff matchups and Finals:
No. 1 Bulls vs. No. 8 Indiana
The Pacers improved slightly when Frank Vogel replaced Jim O'Brien as head coach on Jan. 30, the day after a loss to the Bulls. But a 20-18 record under a new coach doesn't necessarily make Indiana a dangerous opponent. The addition of point guard Darren Collison (13.2 ppg.) helped a lot, but he doesn't match up well against Derrick Rose. Center Roy Hibbert (12.7 ppg.) has improved, but doesn't defend the basket well. Top scorer Danny Granger (20.5 ppg.) is still a one-dimensional shooter. Second-year forward Tyler Hansbrough gave the Bulls problems, scoring 29 points in a March 18 overtime win.
Prediction: Bulls in five games
No. 2 Miami vs. No. 7 Philadelphia
Miami has been vulnerable against the elite teams, but they match up well against the 76ers, whose best asset is their speed. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young are tough for many teams to guard, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will have a clear advantage. Philadelphia also doesn't have the inside strength to capitalize on Miami's biggest weakness. Watch for Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who may try to return from a foot injury. He missed most of the season.
Prediction: Heat in five games
No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 New York
Some underdog boxers are said to have a puncher's chance. The Knicks might have a shooter's chance if Carmelo Anthony scores big and someone like Toney Douglas get hot from 3-point range. The aging Celtics front line might be a perfect scenario for New York center Amare Stoudemire to have a big series. Boston limped to the finish, but won't go down easily.
Prediction: Celtics in seven games
No. 4 Orlando vs. No. 5 Atlanta
The Hawks have become a trendy upset pick, most likely because they won three of four games against Orlando during the regular season. But two of those wins came just before and just after the Magic made a radical December makeover. Atlanta, meanwhile, is just 11-20 since Feb. 8. The one thing that might work in the undersized Hawks' favor is Orlando lost much of its inside strength with all those trades.
Prediction: Magic in five games
No. 1 San Antonio vs. No. 8 Memphis
The Grizzlies seemed to prefer this matchup. They rested starters in the last two games when they had a chance to get the No. 6 seed. San Antonio finished the season 4-8 in its last 12 games, although Tim Duncan was sidelined during the first part of that slump and he's back now. Memphis went 2-2 against the Spurs, including an overtime road loss. The Grizzlies improved their defense and found an identity as a pesky, physical team with a strong inside game.
Prediction: Spurs in six games
No. 2 L.A. Lakers vs. No. 7 New Orleans
The Hornets lost top scorer David West to a knee injury late in the season, so it's tough to see point guard Chris Paul orchestrating an upset without his most reliable teammate. The Lakers ups and downs have been extreme. They won 17 of 18 after the all-star break, then lost five in a row and looked bad while winning the last two. On Wednesday, they squandered a 20-point fourth-quarter lead at Sacramento before Kobe Bryant bailed them out with late 3-pointer. Center Andrew Bynum could miss time with a hyperextended knee.
Prediction: Lakers in six games
No. 3 Dallas vs. No. 6 Portland
The Mavericks posted the best record in the West during the second half of the season. They still have one of the NBA's most capable stars in Dirk Nowitzki and better interior defense since Tyson Chandler showed up. Portland seemed ready to fade out of the playoffs after losing Greg Oden again and Brandon Roy briefly. But the Blazers rallied around LaMarcus Aldridge (21.8 ppg.) and added Gerald Wallace from Charlotte at the trade deadline.
Prediction: Mavs in seven games
No. 4 Oklahoma City vs. No. 5 Denver
This might be the most interesting first-round matchup. The Nuggets improved after trading Carmelo Anthony to New York. Their new lineup is fast, deep and features both 3-point shooting and decent size. The Thunder already had two of the league's brightest young stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Combining former Boston center Kendrick Perkins' nastiness with Serge Ibaka's athleticism might be just what Oklahoma City needs to make a long run.
Prediction: Thunder in six games
The rest of the way
Bulls over Orlando
Miami over Boston
Oklahoma City over San Antonio
Dallas over L.A. Lakers
Miami over Bulls
Oklahoma City over Dallas
Oklahoma City over Miami