In some ways, the Brooklyn Nets were built to be the poor man's Power Trio.
Instead of the Miami version with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Brooklyn features Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.
Miami (1) vs. Milwaukee (8)
Series key: When Scott Skiles coached the Bucks, they had a knack for knocking off the Heat. Now it will be a major victory if Milwaukee wins a single game. Heat in 4.
New York (2) vs. Boston (7)
Series key: Unless a healthy Rajon Rondo comes walking through the door, Boston has no chance against red-hot Carmelo Anthony and New York. Knicks in 5.
Indiana (3) vs. Atlanta (6)
Series key: The Pacers stumbled through the last two weeks of the regular season, but should be able to turn up the defensive pressure to the point where Atlanta has no chance. Pacers in 5.
Oklahoma City (1) vs. Houston (8)
Series key: James Harden playing against his former teammates makes for an interesting angle, but Harden would rather have Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook on his side. Thunder in 4.
San Antonio (4) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7)
Series key: The Lakers didn't seem likely to win a playoff series even with Kobe Bryant. Now that he's injured, the Spurs might be able to rest some key players. Spurs in 5.
Denver (3) vs. Golden State (6)
Series key: The Nuggets have been almost unbeatable at home and have plenty of firepower without Danilo Gallinari. Golden State guard Stephen Curry set the NBA record for most 3-pointers in a season. Nuggets in 7.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Memphis (5)
Series key: The Grizzlies should have won this series last year, but lost in 7. Maybe this time, they'll turn the tables. Grizzlies in 6.
That description fits when it comes to basketball star power, maybe not so much when it comes to the wealth of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. It also previews the biggest task the Bulls will face against Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets may not be an elite team, but they have three all-star caliber players to deal with.
Here's a look at the key matchups in this series, with Game 1 set for Saturday in Brooklyn:
Deron again dominant:
A popular storyline in New York is the resurgence of Deron Williams. The former Illinois star was widely considered a fading star. But he was able to overcome ankle problems at midseason and turn his game back to levels he demonstrated in Utah while playing with Carlos Boozer.
Before the all-star break, Williams averaged 16.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and shot 41.3 percent from the field. After the break, he averaged 22.9 points, 8.0 assists and shot 48.1 percent.
This serves as a reminder to the Bulls that Williams is talented enough to be the difference in this series. He's struggled against Derrick Rose over his career, but Rose hasn't played all season and it would be a surprise if he returns now.
A team of individuals:
One strange trait of these Nets is that even though they have one of the league's elite point guards, they rank 27th in assists. That's probably a sign that Brooklyn tends to take turns with their three main guys going 1-on-1.
It's probably not a bad strategy, since Brook Lopez is one of the best offensive centers in the league and averaged 22 points against the Bulls this season. Two of the Nets' starters, Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace, rarely shoot the ball.
Counting on Carlos:
Since joining the Bulls in 2010, Carlos Boozer has been a mixed bag in the playoffs. With Joakim Noah struggling with plantar fasciitis and Taj Gibson returning from a knee sprain, it's vital that Boozer has a strong series.
Simply put, sending Boozer to the bench in favor of Noah and Gibson, a popular choice in the past, isn't an option now. He's got a good matchup defensively against nonscoring power forward Reggie Evans.
Against the Nets this season, Boozer averaged 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. In the April 4 win at Brooklyn, he produced 29 points and 18 rebounds. Having an offensive anchor in the post will make everything else easier for the Bulls.
Hurting, not injured:
Health is obviously a big concern for the Bulls. Is Kirk Hinrich moving well enough to give his best effort defending Williams? Can Brooklyn native Taj Gibson be close enough to full strength to offset the probable absence of Noah?
It's not clear how much the Bulls will count on Rip Hamilton or Marco Belinelli, since Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler figure to play 40 minutes per game. The Bulls definitely can't afford to lose anybody else.
At 6-feet-11, Andray Blatche is big enough to give the Bulls some problems in the post and he has throughout his career. But the Nets haven't gotten big contributions from other reserves. Former Bulls C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans have done nothing special. Kris Humphries' numbers have nose-dived from the past two seasons, and Marshon Brooks doesn't play much because of defensive issues.
Old team in new town:
These will be the NBA's first playoff games in Brooklyn. Whether that has the Nets flying high or acting uptight is anyone's guess. This is generally a new fan base for the Nets and the majority of NBA buzz in New York right now is focused on the Knicks.
Even though the Bulls went 3-1 against Brooklyn this season, coach Tom Thibodeau and the players have emphasized that three of the games were decided by 4 points or less. How many times has a Bulls' win hinged on whether or not Nate Robinson gets a hot hand?
This figures to be a tight series. Brooklyn has a couple of players in Williams and Johnson who are capable of hitting clutch shots. The Bulls aren't healthy, but should have an edge in defense, chemistry and playoff experience.
Prediction: Nets in seven games.