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No. 1 Heat over No. 8 Hawks, 4-0
This will be an old-fashioned, first-round KO. The Hawks continue to be on the brink of being competitive, but sadly, I don't think they will ever get there. They have a solid core of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford, but they just haven't been able to put it all together.
While the Hawks will be struggling to take flight, the Heat will be preparing for redemption and a second shot at the title. Atlanta's squad should be no match for the tandem of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
No. 2 Bulls over No. 7 Pacers, 4-2
I loved this first-round matchup last year, and felt that Indiana was a couple, solid fourth quarters away from pulling the unprecedented upset. The Pacers are my favorite team to make a stir in the league this year. Since last season's end, they've made moves for George Hill and David West giving them more depth, youth and experience. They have six players who could score 15 or more on any given night and their starting five, although currently flying well under the radar, might be one of the best in the league.
The Bulls have filled their only major void at the shooting guard slot with the signing of Rip Hamilton, who gives the team an added dimension and offensive weapon. Derrick Rose will continue his MVP-type play, while Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah will hold down the front line.
I still think the Pacers will give the Bulls a challenge, but I don't see an upset happening—at least not yet.
No. 3 Knicks over No. 6 Magic, 4-1
With the addition of Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis, the Knicks now boast experience, one of the league's best frontcourts and at least some defensive presence in the paint. The superstar duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are nightmares for opposing defenses, but they will have to improve on their own defensive end to make a run at the title.
The Magic are in the midst of major turmoil and confusion. Dwight Howard's indecision and conflicting destinations of interest—a list which now includes Atlanta—will most likely be the downfall of this team. Either Dwight will be shipped off for a package of youngsters and draft picks, or his Magic will fall swiftly in the first round of the playoffs.
No. 4 Celtics over No. 5 76ers, 4-2
This has the potential to be a great matchup and even an upset. The Celtics are the epitome of a proven and weathered team, but their age will catch up with them sooner than later. Their core of Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett seemed more enticing two or three years ago than they do today, but if they can all manage to stay healthy, they will have a good shot at the Eastern Conference finals.
The 76ers are young and emerging. Jrue Holiday could prove to be this team's best player and leader by season's end, but for now, Andre Iguodala is the captain of this ship and the 76ers will go where he directs them. Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand and the recently re-signed Thaddeus Young will hold down the frontcourt, while guards Evan Turner, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks will look to provide much-needed firepower on the perimeter.
Although I see the 76ers putting up a fight in this matchup, I don't see them knocking out the "Big Four" in Boston when taking into consideration their experience and passion.