The Chicago Bulls were big movers during the season. After a disappointing 4-1 loss to Miami in their Eastern Conference finals series last season, the Bulls managed to win 50 games, having the best record in the league.
The Bulls will face Philadelphia, the number eight seed in the Eastern Conference. Chicago led the season series between these two sides (2-1), and will look to close out this series as quickly as possible.
The Bulls should be able to contain the 76ers, who will be looking to veteran Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala to improve on their seasons in the playoffs. Between them, they have only averaged 23.4 points per game this season, and with Derrick Rose averaging 21.8 himself, the task seems daunting for Philadelphia.
But the Bulls have injury concerns, trio Luol Deng, Kyle Korver and Rose were all rested during yesterday’s clash with Cleveland. Deng has been nursing a wrist injury, Korver an elbow and last seasons MVP, Rose, has battled a bad back, sore groin, sprained ankle and the newest addition to his list, a foot injury.
If the Bulls are healthy they should win the series, but if Philadelphia can stretch the series out, they may be able to pull something out of the hat.
The Miami Heat will head into the playoffs with a high level of expectation on their shoulders. With a star-studded line-up comprised of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. On paper, Miami should win the championship.
These three stars averaged a massive 67.2 points per game between them as they cruised to seal second spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat comes up against the New York Knicks, who were unable to topple the Heat in their three meetings. This, along with the absence of Jeremy Lin, might be enough to dismiss the Knicks.
However, since the arrival of new coach Mike Woodson, the Knicks have concentrated on their defensive game, and this could help them overcome the hot and cold Miami team. But, unless Carmelo Anthony can play at his best, it is hard to see the Knicks getting near Miami.
The third placed Indiana Pacers, who will face Orlando, have been a revelation this season. They are young and desperate for success, if they find form they could be a dangerous team in the East throughout the playoffs.
Orlando has had a disappointing year, one that saw it, once again, rely heavily on Dwight Howard, as he carried the team by putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds a night. The Magic defeated the Pacers on three of the four occasions they met during the season, but with Howard going through a back surgery, the Pacers should win this comfortably.
The Boston Celtics, who were struggling to be in contention for the playoffs early in the season managed to clinch fourth spot in the East. They have been waiting for the playoffs to get underway; it’s when their stars come out to play.
Aging veterans, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are all proven playoff contributors, and if they can play to their potential Boston will be a very dangerous team to come up against. Their opponents, the young Atlanta Hawks, headed by Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, might have the legs to out run the seasoned Boston line-up.
It will depend on whether Boston’s ‘big three’ can take their opportunities or not, this one could go the distance.
The ever-consistent San Antonio Spurs managed to win top-seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs, like Boston, have an aging list, but the Spurs seem to have a bit more life in them compared to Boston.
With Tony Parker averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 assists, he leads their attack, which must be said is an even spread. Only three players average over ten points a game, but ten players average between five and ten.
They aren’t a spectacular team to watch, but their fundamentals are second-to-none.
The Jazz, who are somewhat under-rated, will have their work cut out for them. The Jazz do have players that can go hot, and turn the game. With the likes of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Devin Harris, the Jazz are never far off the mark, but the experience of Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli should see them prevail against the Utah Jazz.
The number two seed, Oklahoma City, are arguably the best team in the Western Conference come up against the defending champions the Dallas Mavericks. Although Dallas were able to win the championship last year, it is highly unlikely that they will get past the first-round action this season.
The Thunder hold the advantage of having Kevin Durant on their side, the prolific scorer, averaged 28 points this seasons, and alongside him is the dangerous Russell Westbrook who also averages over 23 points per game.
This is the factor that makes Oklahoma City a threat for the championship, the Durant-Westbrook combination is dynamic and can tear other teams apart.
On the other side of the fence, Dallas are but a mere shadow of the team they were 12 months ago, they rely too heavily on Dirk Nowitzki who has once again provided good service to his team averaging 21 points. But, Nowitzki wont be enough to overcome the Thunder.
Another side that could potentially be champions, is the Los Angeles Lakers, fronted by the almost unstoppable Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are always a threat. This season saw Andrew Bynum mature and changed the face of the Lakers, from a one-man team to a one-two combo.
With Bryant finishing second only to Durant in the league scoring with 27.9 points per game, and Andrew Bynum contributing 18 points and ten rebounds a game, the Lakers look ready to take on anyone.
Throw Pau Gasol into the mix, and they are indeed one of the best in the business, and they find themselves up against the Denver Nuggets.
In order for the Nuggets to overcome the Lakers, they will need a player like Ty Lawson to take the game on and try to win it for them. They do have a wide range of scorers, with five players averaging over ten points, which is an advantage. But only if the stingy LA defence allows them time to get a good look at the ring, will they have a chance at overcoming LA.
Finally, the LA Clippers will meet the Memphis Grizzlies in what will be an intriguing match-up. Expect a high scoring and exciting series, with talented players such as Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol all set to play.
Griffin is an excitement machine for the Clippers, and a predominant scorer as well, he averages an impressive 20 points and ten rebounds, and with Paul by his side averaging just under 20 points and nine assists, the Clippers can be a force.
The Clippers have seven players who average over ten points, which will help them get over the line if Griffin and Paul aren’t performing.
The Grizzlies also have an even spread of scorers who can provide valuable points. This one will go down to the wire, and is probably the best match-up of the first round of playoffs.