2010 NBA Playoff Bracket: Eastern Conference First Round Preview
Let the games begin.
After six months of action, the NBA's best weeks are ahead of us, and I for one can't wait.
Every year the NBA playoffs give us drama and star power, and this year will be no exception.
The East is top-heavy, with the Cavs, Magic, Hawks, and Celtics sitting on the top of the bracket.
The fact that the Celtics are a No. 4 seed speaks to the improved depth of this conference; not long ago, they were considered the beasts of the East.
But the new beasts reside in Cleveland, and it's their conference to lose.
Here are the four first-round series as I see them.
No. 1 Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Bulls
The Bulls thrilled the NBA last season with their seven-game series against then-defending champion Boston, but they have a different monster staring them down this April.
You may have heard of him, his name is LeBron James (pictured).
The Cavs superstar leads a loaded team that features All-Stars Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal, and Antawn Jamison. This is a team that can beat you a lot of ways.
The Bulls on the other hand are limping to the finish line, after having secured their ticket to the postseason only 24 hours ago.
The well-rested Cavs had their No. 1 seed clinched while the Bulls were overextending themselves down the stretch to sneak into the show.
Not that it matters much. The Cavs (and LeBron) are too powerful for a 41-41 Chicago ballclub.
Key Cavalier: James
The best player on the planet, who came close to averaging a triple-double this season, still covets a championship ring.
He won't get one against the Bulls, but he will help eliminate them, probably in four games.
Key Bull: Joakim Noah
While Derrick Rose is the straw that stirs the drink for the Bulls, Noah's intensity cannot be matched and his will to win is impressive to say the least.
He came on strong last year against Boston in the playoffs, and rode that momentum into a very improved 2009-10 season.
He'll need to hit the glass, defend Cleveland's bigs well, and chip in offensively if the Bulls want to make any noise.
Prediction: Cavs in four
Too much LeBron and company for the tired Bulls to handle.
Plus, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro will probably be checking over his shoulder during the games to make sure GM John Paxson isn't about to slug him; can't win in the playoffs doing that.
No. 2 Magic vs. No. 7 Bobcats
Vince Carter and Dwight Howard (pictured) are one of the deadliest one-two combinations in the league, and they'll show it against the Bobcats.
Orlando tasted success last year, winning the East and facing off against the eventual champion Lakers.
Despite losing that series, the Magic remain a threat to not only win the East, but also the NBA championship.
There's not a player on Charlotte's roster who can contain Howard this series; he'll be the difference.
The Bobcats are a nice story, but are a year or two away from being serious contenders in the East.
They'll pin their hopes on the equally dangerous one-two punch of Gerald Wallace (18.2 ppg) and Stephen Jackson (20.2 ppg) this series, but they'll likely need more at some point.
Key Magic player: Howard
Looking at the Bobcats' big guys (Tyson Chandler, Theo Ratliff, Tyrus Thomas) should make Howard smile; he'll have no problem putting up big numbers this series.
But if he can't, there's plenty of other talent on the floor for the Magic to propel them to a series win.
Key Bobcat: Stephen Jackson
Jackson flew under the radar this season playing for Charlotte, but he posted very respectable numbers across the board and is the main reason Charlotte is here in the first place.
He'll have to play well for the Bobcats to win a game or two, but he just doesn't have the pieces around him that Howard does.
Prediction: Magic in four
Orlando makes Charlotte's first postseason trip a short one, while setting its sights on bigger and better things.
No. 3 Hawks vs. No. 6 Bucks
Atlanta has been a team on the rise the past several seasons, culminating with a stellar 53-29 record in 2009-10.
The Hawks feature good guard play, solid big men, and a dangerous bench, led by Jamal Crawford.
The improvement seen in Al Horford and Josh Smith helps explain the Hawks' rise to a power in the East, but don't forget about Joe Johnson (pictured).
This series would have looked very different two weeks ago when Bucks center Andrew Bogut was healthy.
He is now out for Milwaukee, and his Bucks could soon join him.
The Bucks already were playing without star guard Michael Redd this season, but the injury to Bogut could be too much to overcome.
Key Hawk: Crawford
His 18 points per game is excellent, but what's more impressive is that it comes from a sixth man.
He is the second-leading scorer on Atlanta, something that the Bucks will have no answer for if he gets hot.
Key Buck: John Salmons
Acquired at the trade deadline, Salmons stepped up his game in a big way for Milwaukee and will be counted on even more during this postseason.
Brandon Jennings has more talent, but Salmons is a veteran who has experience in series in which his team is a sizable underdog (last season with the Bulls, for example).
Salmons can play well, but the Bucks ultimately will miss Bogut.
Prediction: Hawks in five
They'll use their balanced scoring and tremendous record at home (34-7) to make short work of the Bucks. This is a dangerous team.
No. 4 Celtics vs. No. 5 Heat
This series has one superstar (Miami's Dwyane Wade) taking on several superstars (Boston's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo).
You have to like the odds if you're a Boston fan.
Wade (pictured) is phenomenal, but can he take on the Celtics without any significant help from his teammates?
The Heat only feature three players who score in double figures (Wade, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O'Neal) yet managed to finish 12 games over .500.
They have enough to make it a series, but in the end, look for Boston's experience and overall talent to take it past Miami.
Key Celtic: Garnett
Boston missed Garnett last year in the playoffs and it clearly showed, as the Celtics labored through a series with Chicago and were eventually tossed aside by the Magic.
His return to the court gives the Celtics a real advantage in experience and helps this team emotionally. He can still hurt teams in a number of ways.
Key Heat player: Wade (obviously)
He is more than capable of putting the Heat on his back and taking them to the finish line, and he might have to do that for a few games to help Miami stay in this series.
He can light up the scoreboard all he wants, but it still won't be enough.
Prediction: Celtics in six
Miami plays well both at home and on the road, so don't be surprised if they steal one in Boston.
At the end of the day, however, Boston is too good for one man (even if it's Wade) to prevail.