The Eastern Conference may have power teams but it’s still top heavy compared to the Western Conference’s balance. Don’t look for too many upsets here as the real show will start in the semifinals. Meanwhile, the Western Conference is deeper than it’s been the last few years and it’s possible one or two favorites could be bounced early. From top-to-bottom, each series will be worth watching for hoop heads and casual fans alike. The most exciting season in recent years is about to get turned up another notch.
Chicago vs. Indiana – The No. 1 team in the league should have no problem running through the Pacers, who are making their first postseason trip in five years. Indy’s record of 37-45 would only be good for 12th in the West so consider it pity that somehow they’ll win a game like they did beating the Bulls in overtime last month. Chicago won the other three meetings by double digits so expect a couple of thrashings to get warmed up for the second round. Chicago in five games
Miami vs. Philadelphia – For all the Heat’s troubles, they finished No. 2 in the East and with the third best record in the NBA. Their reward is a Philadelphia team that overachieved after starting the year 3-13 but hasn’t seen beyond the first round in eight seasons. Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Louis Williams will make waves but expect a motivated Heat squad to send another message after they ended the season winning six of their last seven. Miami in five games
Boston vs. New York – On paper, this is the most intriguing series in the East. A once great rivalry renewed. The Knicks back in the postseason for the first time since 2004. Boston on the last legs of their great run but struggling since trading Kendrick Perkins. It will be must-see TV but on the court, the Celtics’s defense (No. 1 in points allowed) will slow down the high-octane Knicks offense (No. 2 in points scored) handily. Boston in five games
Biggest Potential First Round Upset?
Orlando vs. Atlanta – This series could go either way. Orlando is the better team on paper but they’ve been battling their share injuries. Atlanta gave Orlando fits in their season series, winning three, but stumbled into the playoffs with a six game losing streak. Game 1 will set the tone for what's either going to be a drag-down brawl or a quick ending where Orlando picks apart a lifeless team. Either way, this will be the last of the Hawks as we know them. Orlando in seven games
San Antonio vs. Memphis – The No. 1 team in the West is on edge after an elbow injury to Manu Ginobli. But it shouldn’t worry them enough to fear an upset. Zach Randolph will have a solid series for Memphis but inconsistent guard play and not enough shooting will send them home but not before finally getting that elusive first playoff win in team history. This is what the Spurs have played for and there’s no doubt they’ll advance without much trouble. San Antonio in five games
Los Angeles vs. New Orleans – Will we see the team that went 17-1 after the All-Star break or the team that lost five in a row and looked lethargic beating San Antonio and Sacramento? Will Andrew Bynum’s bone bruise be a factor? It won’t matter in this round because New Orleans has far more problems, starting with no David West and wondering who will step up alongside Chris Paul. Let the countdown for where Paul is headed after next season start now. Los Angeles in five games
Dallas vs. Portland – Dallas has been out of the first round once since 2006 and despite the addition of Tyson Chandler, this year looks even tougher. Portland is the team nobody in the West wants to face and with Gerald Wallace providing an extra boost, this is their best chance to get past the first round for the first time since 2000. It’s another series that can go either way and in a Game 7, Portland would actually have a mental edge given the Mavericks’ playoff history. I’m still picking Dallas because of the Chandler effect and knowing this could be their last chance to make a deep run. Dallas in seven games
Oklahoma City vs. Denver – Get ready for a lot of scoring because this series will have more than enough to go around. No shame in saying this series will be a lot of fun watching the speedy backcourt of Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson vs. the 1-2 punch of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The key, however, will be Kendrick Perkins adding defensive toughness in the middle and that’s why the Thunder will win their first playoff series. Oklahoma City in six games