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NBA playoffs: Preview capsules

Bulls have the best record, but they might be in for a rude welcome to the postseason. Lakers should have little trouble against Hornets.

April 14, 2011|By Mark Heisler
  • Bulls point guard Derrick Rose drives past Nets point guard Jordan Farmar during a 97-92 victory on Wednesday night.
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose drives past Nets point guard Jordan Farmar… (Rob Grabowski / US Presswire )

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. CHICAGO (62-20) vs. 8. INDIANA (37-45)

Season series: Chicago, 3-1.

Key stat: The Pacers would have been No. 12 in the West, two games ahead of No. 13 Golden State.

Outlook: The Bulls were the best team after Thanksgiving (54-15 to the Spurs' 48-19), but they're about to see how different the playoffs are.

With real game-planning and focus, teams will walk away from non-shooting guards Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer and gang up even more on MVP-in-waiting Derrick Rose.

Prediction: Not that Indiana's No. 18 defense should be a problem.

2. MIAMI (58-24) VS. 7. PHILADELPHIA (41-41)

Season series: Miami, 3-0.

Key stat: Miami finished 49-16 after its 9-8 start.

Outlook: Despite crushing pressure and ridiculous expectations, the Heat held up.

If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's games aren't complementary, their attitudes are. This is their time of year when it's about tough hoops and free throw attempts.

The 76ers went 33-19 after a 3-13 start but finished 5-9 with Andre Iguodala, their Scottie Pippen, hurting.

Prediction: The 76ers may not go easily but go they will.

3. BOSTON (56-26) VS. 6. NEW YORK (42-40)

Season series: Boston, 4-0.

Key fact: In four meetings, the Celtics outrebounded the Knicks by 9.5 a game.

Outlook: Hoping for someone their size — Miami — the Knicks got the hulking Celtics, who push them around — or did with Shaquille O'Neal and Kendrick Perkins.

Boston finished 10-11 with Perkins gone, Shaq out and teams falling off Rajon Rondo, making him shoot over them.

That's right up the Knicks' alley, because they don't guard anyone.

Prediction: Nevertheless, it will take a lot of three-pointers to beat even the downsized Celtics.

4. ORLANDO (52-30) vs. 5. ATLANTA (44-38)

Season series: Atlanta, 3-1.

Key stat: Orlando's Dwight Howard averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 62% from the line after the break.

Outlook: If both teams dropped from last season, when Orlando won 59 and Atlanta 53, they were closer then.

Howard anchors a defense that was No. 5 in opponents' shooting percentage to the Hawks' No. 18.

Prediction: The Hawks beat 43-win Miami in the first round in 2009 and 46-win Milwaukee last spring but don't have home-court advantage against a small fry this time.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. SAN ANTONIO (61-21) VS. 8. MEMPHIS (46-36)

Season series: 2-2.

Key stat: Manu Ginobili shot 48% through Dec. 1, 40% the next three months, 45% after the break.

Outlook: Putting the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of their swoon, Ginobili, the key Spur, hyperextended his right elbow in a cameo appearance in the finale.

Meanwhile, Memphis sat Zach Randolph in its last two, dropping to No. 8 — to play the Spurs rather than the Lakers.

Now to see if the Spurs are the team that started 57-13 or finished 4-8.

Prediction: Spurs, but no romp.

2. LAKERS (57-25) VS. 7. NEW ORLEANS (46-36)

Season series: Lakers, 4-0.

Key stat: The Hornets finished 5-4 without David West, 1-3 vs. West playoff teams.

Outlook: Thanks, Big Laker in the Sky.

Someone up there must like this messed-up crew if it can mail in April, blow a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in the finale and get this dream matchup.

It's a Hornets nightmare with West out, leaving the undermanned little team even smaller and more undermanned.

Prediction: Lakers in four ... unless Chris Paul shows up with a slingshot ... or the Lakers don't show, again.

3. DALLAS (57-25) VS. 6. PORTLAND (48-34)

Season series: 2-2.

Key stat: Jason Kidd shot 33% after the break as the Mavericks, who started 45-16, finished 12-9.

Outlook: This is closer than it looks.

The Mavericks won the first two meetings when they were rolling, the Trail Blazers the last two in a 22-10 finish.

Without Greg Oden and the old Brandon Roy, Coach Nate McMillan, who has done this trick before, turned to LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum.

The Mavericks are bigger and more famous, but older and more tired.

Prediction: Dallas. I mean Portland. Oh, I give up.

4. OKLAHOMA CITY (55-27) VS. 5 DENVER (50-32)

Season series: Oklahoma City, 3-1.

Key stat: The Thunder finished 19-5, beating the Heat, Lakers and Nuggets on the road.

Outlook: The Nuggets finished 19-9, won 50 games and find themselves on the road against an even hotter team in the first round.

The Nuggets have eight players in double figures, but no Carmelo Anthony-type closer.

The Thunder has two, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with all its new muscle and attitude.

Prediction: It's tough to win 50 and find yourself in over your head, but the Nuggets are.

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