The NBA playoffs are finally here. The Eastern conference is set in stone. Chicago, Miami, and Boston are all looking to get their shot at garnering the title, but is there a dark horse in the mix?
Here are the final seeds in the East.
1. Chicago Bulls
2. Miami Heat
3. Boston Celtics
4. Orlando Magic
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. New York Knicks
7. Philadelphia 76'ers
8. Indiana Pacers
Chicago: 61-20 (one game remaining)
Indiana: 37-44 (one game remaining)
Season series: Chicago won 3-1
The only falter in the Central Division for the Chicago Bulls was their final game against the Indiana Pacers, where rookie Tyler Hansbrough gave them trouble, scoring 29 points alongside 12 rebounds. The Pacers won the game in overtime 115-108 despite likely MVP winner Derrick Rose's 42 points.
Danny Granger has also averaged 20 points per game against Chicago, although he did miss the December 13th matchup.
Each of the Chicago victories was by double digits as the Bulls just dominated the Pacers.
Nobody on the Pacers can match up with soon-to-be MVP Derrick Rose's speed and ability, and the Bulls outdue the Pacers in just about every other position as well. Luol Deng should provide steady scoring and defense as he has all year for Chicago, and Boozer with Noah should be able to take care of Hansbrough down low. Coach Thibodeau will have his team ready to play defense and not looking ahead.
Prediction: The Pacers manage to upset the Bulls once in Indiana, but lose the series 4-1.
Miami: 57-24 (one remaining)
Philadelphia: 41-40 (one remaining)
Season series: Miami won 3-0
Miami swept the season series versus the surprising 76ers club. Doug Collins certainly deserves some Coach of the Year votes for getting his Philadelphia team this far, but this is where the road ends.
Miami has not completely blown out the 76ers this season, but it hasn't been close either, winning by an average of ten points per contest. Miami is expected, like other higher seeded teams, to turn it up a notch heading into the playoffs. If Wade, James and Bosh are clicking, the Heat could be the team to watch out for in the East, with Wade and James having NBA Finals experience.
Prediction: The 76ers play their hearts out but come up empty. Miami sweeps the series 4-0, but the games in Philadelphia are closer than expected.
Boston Celtics: 55-26 (One game remaining)
New York Knicks: 42-39 (One game remaining)
Season series: Boston won 2-0 (Knicks play in Boston tonight)
It's hard to get a good judgement on these teams. Although they play tonight, the Celtics are expected to be resting their starters and the Knicks will be without Stoudemire. Both of the previous matchups were before the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York and the Kendrick Perkins trade out of Boston. These teams come into the postseason on different paths. The Knicks have won seven of their last eight, with the sole loss to top seeded Chicago. Boston has lost 11 of their last 19 and have struggled since losing the big defensive presence of Kendrick Perkins.
This series will come down to whether or not the Knicks want to play defense. The Celtics are known for shutting down opponents when it comes down to crunch time, while the Knicks' gameplan is to simply outscore the opponent and score somewhere around 115 points. If the Celtics cannot play defense, it may be a difficult series for them. Rondo is a sub par shooter at best, while Allen, even as the all-time three point shooter, is very streaky. Pierce and Garnett may have to hold the offensive load if the bench doesn't quickly become healthy.
Prediction: Celtics take care of business in Game 7. The Knicks will make a strong run, winning at least one of the first two in Boston, but the Celtics turn on the engines in the Garden for Game 6 before continuing their momentum in the final game.
Orlando Magic: 51-30 (one game remaining)
Atlanta Hawks: 44-37 (One game remaining)
Season series: Atlanta won 3-1
Atlanta may have won the season series, but each game was close. The difference of each contest came out to an average of less than six points. The Hawks are limping to the finish line right now, dropping their last six games in which they have allowed 114 points or more in three of them. Atlanta seems to not have their minds or hearts in each game they play since they locked up the playoffs. It may not matter now, but after turning the afterburners off, it is very difficult to get them going right away again.
The Magic on the other hand are led by big man Dwight Howard with a flurry of jump shooters. Al Horford is going to struggle with his matchup against what is arguably the best center in the league in Howard. If that forces a double team, Howard can kick it out to any of Orlando's deadly three point shooters.
Prediction: Although Atlanta won the season series, I see Stan Van Gundy keeping his team in line and going on to the second round after a 4-2 series win. Atlanta steals a few games back home, but cannot come up with a victory on the road.
Chicago Bulls vs. Orlando Magic:
The Bulls will have homecourt advantage, but have struggled with the quick shooting Magic on occasion. Can Orlando slow down Chicago's pride and joy, Derrick Rose?
Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics:
The two favorites in the East coming into this season face off, but can Boston overcome their recent struggles, lack of a formidable big man, and Miami's homecourt advantage?
Thanks for the read! Leave your first round predictions below.