The 2012 NBA playoffs first-round matchups are set and fans are in full prediction mode. Many teams are poised to make a run at the championship and anything can happen in the postseason.
The playoffs are where true superstar legacies are made. Regular season accomplishments can mean very little if those accomplishments are not supplemented by some sort of postseason success.
For example, Tracy McGrady was one of the top players of the last decade, but in the eyes of many fans, he will be remembered more for his inability to escape the first round than his spectacular regular season exploits.
The NBA playoffs are where potential free agents or players seeking pay raises can earn their keep.
A great example of this is Jerome James (pictured above), who out of nowhere parlayed an 11-game stretch of 12.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG in two series for Seattle in 2005 (after averaging 4.9 in the regular season) into a 5-year, $30 million FA contract from the Knicks.
James never played more than 10 minutes a game for the Knicks in the following four seasons.
With that in mind, here are predictions of a player from each first round series who can have breakout performances early this postseason, due to opportunity from team injuries, favorable matchups or from simply riding a hot streak into the playoffs.
Lavoy Allen is by no stretch of the imagination a household name. Many NBA fans probably have no idea who the 6'9" rookie forward is.
Allen was selected 50th overall out of Temple and has produced 4.1 PPG and 4.2 RPG for the Sixers in about 15 minutes a game, including 15 starts.
Allen will have an opportunity to play against the Bulls' intimidating frontcourt.
Elton Brand has limited mobility over the years and knee injuries and Allen's youth and athleticism can be a needed boost if the Sixers plan to make this a competitive series.
Allen may not wow fans with his stats, but he can be a nice contrast off the bench for Philly when they need to spell Brand.
He also matches up well physically with Chicago's bench energy player Taj Gibson.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade Wade's nagging injuries could open the door for Harris to have an impact on the series against the Knicks.
Wade is a go for the Knicks series, but the Heat may not play him heavy minutes unless absolutely necessary.
Harris is 6'4" and can offer a better matchup than fellow rookie Norris Cole off the bench against the Knicks' J.R. Smith.
Although Harris' jumper has been erratic this season, he was known as a knockdown shooter at Oklahoma State and a high-profile series against New York would be ideal for a breakout performance.
Dwight Howard is done for the season.
Orlando doesn't have many options to turn to in the paint besides young Daniel Orton, who the Magic selected in the bottom of the first round in 2009 out of Kentucky.
Orton probably left Kentucky before he was ready to contribute regularly in the NBA and he has been a mixed bag when given minutes.
Howard's absence is the perfect opportunity for Orton to prove his worth. Orton's contract has club options on it for three years, $6.5 million if he produces this post season.
Orton has the size (6'10", 255 lbs) to be competitive in the post. If he can triple his averages of 2.8 PPG and 2.4 rebounds, Orton can earn a nice pay raise this summer, either from the Magic or in free agency.
Avery Bradley has already been making his mark this season as a fill in for Ray Allen.
Bradley has played well paired in the back court with Rajon Rondo and averaged 12.3 PPG in 28 games as a starter.
As stated previously, stars are made in the playoffs and Bradley will have his chance with Allen still nursing injuries.
Bradley is a relentless defender and excellent slasher off the ball on offense. He may not be able to duplicate Allen's long-range efficiency, but not many in the NBA can and Bradley offers enough in other areas to be an effective starting 2 option.
The Hawks experimented with Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Teague in the starting back court together, but I would give the Celtics duo the advantage in this scenario.
If Bradley has a breakout series, it would be that much easier for Celtics fans to accept Ray Allen's inevitable exit this summer.
Hayward has shown vast improvement from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign, raising his scoring average from 5.4 as a rookie to 11.8 in 2011-2012, while showing the basketball IQ that had scouts raving about him out of Butler.
Although Hayward has been a starter for the majority of the season, he hasn't received the notoriety that other young players have, especially for being such a versatile talent.
Hayward handles like a veteran guard, can shoot from distance as well as make the right pass, more often than not.
A strong showing in the playoffs against the top-seeded Spurs would expose fans who are sure to love Hayward's all-around solid basketball skills.
Roddy Beaubois has been hyped to be a rising star ever since he was drafted by the Mavs in 2009, but injuries have kept him off the court for long stretches so far.
With Lamar Odom out of the picture, Vince Carter getting increased minutes at small forward and Jason Terry's impending exit in free agency, the lightning quick combo guard has an opportunity to audition for a larger role as the Mavs' sixth man next season.
It's a role that Terry has thrived in for Dallas for close to a decade.
The Thunder like to get up and down the floor, so their style of play is the perfect storm for Beaubois to score a ton of points off the bench.
If he can stay healthy, of course.
With Metta World Peace suspended for virtually the entire first round series, Ebanks should see a good amount of time as the Lakers' starter until MVP's return in seven games.
Ebanks may not offer much offensively for Los Angeles, but he has all the tools to be a solid defender and will need to use them to keep Nuggets scorer Danilo Gallinari in check.
On offense, if Ebanks can make a jumper or two and cut to the basket when the Lakers' bigs are doubled, then he will have more than done his job.
Ebanks will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so if he can take advantage of this playoffs audition, he will find himself as a rotation player next season, whether for the Lakers or elsewhere.
After a standout career with Washington, Quincy Pondexter hasn't done much in the pros, but Pondexter may see his minutes increase in this series with the athletic Clippers.
'Q' is primarily Rudy Gay's back up, but he's athletic, has long arms and can play some PF if Memphis chooses to go with a smaller, quicker lineup and move Zach Randolph to center.
Pondexter may not offer much in the half-court game, but he runs the floor well and can finish on the break.
Pondexter's contributions may not be much, but in a series that many predict to go seven games, he can be a subtle difference maker in helping the Grizzlies advance.