Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat begin their NBA title defense in the playoffs… (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images )
HEAT VS. BUCKS
66-16 (Home: 37-4; Road: 29-12)
38-44 (Home: 21-20; Road: 17-24)
Season series: Miami, 3-1.
Key stat: LeBron James is making a career-best 56.5% of his shots, which is all the more stunning when you consider he shot 41.7% as a rookie sensation nine seasons ago.
Outlook: Milwaukee may not be the 1985-86 Chicago Bulls, who made the playoffs despite a 30-52 record, but it deserves dishonorable mention for beep, beep, beeping into the playoffs like a truck in reverse. The Bucks are 6-15 since a victory over Sacramento on March 10. That's one fewer loss than Miami has all season.
Prediction: Can we dispense with the pretense of the first three rounds and give the Heat a bye into the Finals? Heat in four.
KNICKS VS. CELTICS
2. New York
54-28 (Home: 31-10; Road: 23-18)
41-40 (Home: 27-13; Road: 14-27)
Season series: New York, 3-1.
Key stat: The Knicks average a league-low 12.0 turnovers a game.
Outlook: New York has been the NBA's hottest team over the last month despite a flurry of injuries, winning 13 games in a row at one point and 16 of 18 overall. Meanwhile, Boston has plodded along since Rajon Rondo suffered a torn knee ligament in late January. Not even Doc Rivers, the best coach in the Eastern Conference, can formulate a plan to overcome that.
Prediction: The Knicks have not won a playoff series since 2000. The Celtics have not lost in the first round since 2005. Both of those trends are about to change. Knicks in five.
PACERS VS. HAWKS
49-32 (Home: 30-11; Road: 19-21)
44-38 (Home: 25-16; Road: 19-22)
Season series: 2-2.
Key stat: The Pacers give up 90.7 points a game, second best in the league.
Outlook: Indiana plays such a physically punishing style that its home games might seem better suited to the artificial turf of Lucas Oil Stadium. Atlanta has largely overachieved in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season after the departure of Joe Johnson, with Al Horford and Josh Smith giving the Hawks two of the league's most dynamic young players.
Prediction: The inconsistent Hawks will do what they do best: win a few games but ultimately fall short. Pacers in six.
NETS VS. BULLS
49-33 (Home: 26-15; Road: 23-18)
45-37 (Home: 24-17; Road: 21-20)
Season series: Chicago, 3-1.
Key stat: Chicago center Joakim Noah is averaging career highs in points (11.9), rebounds (11.1) and blocked shots (2.1).
Outlook: The Bulls have been getting up for big games lately, ending Miami's 27-game winning streak and New York's 13-game winning streak. They have also suffered recent defeats against non-playoff teams Toronto (twice) and Washington. Brooklyn has been relatively steady behind the Big Three of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez since Coach P.J. Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson on an interim basis.
Prediction: The Nets' first trip to the playoffs since 2007 will be short and not so sweet, especially if Derrick Rose decides to return from the knee injury that has sidelined him all season. Bulls in six.