#8 Detroit Pistons (39-43) vs #1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16)
Season series: Cavs lead 3-1
While this has been a competitive rivalry in recent years, it's hard to imagine the 2009 edition living up to that hype. The Pistons are a veteran team with ample playoff experience and they will not go down easily. Expect close, physical, hard-fought games. Well at least in Detroit. But the Cavs just have too much. LeBron James cannot be stopped be wiry Tayshaun Prince (or anyone in the league, for that matter) and, with the Allen Iverson trade a bust, the Pistons simply do not have enough left in the tank to take this series deep.
X-factor: Kwame Brown
I know this sounds crazy, but Brown has actually shown signs of life in the last month and a half of the season, logging significant minutes for Detroit and playing reasonably well at times. He's certainly not going to dominate either side of the ball, but one of the Cavs' biggest advantages over Detroit is the superior play of their big men and a strong performance from Brown would close this gap a bit.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
#7 Chicago Bulls (41-41) vs #2 Boston Celtics (62-20)
Season series: Celtics lead 2-1
What at first looked like an easy series win for Boston could now be a tightly contested matchup between the defending champs and the up-and-coming Bulls, thanks to Kevin Garnett's uncertain status. It was reported today that Garnett could miss the entire playoffs so it's a safe bet he won't be playing in this series. That will make things quite difficult from the Celtics, who lost their most recent game against the Bulls 127-121. The Bulls match up very well with the Celtics, now that Garnett is out of the picture. Ben Gordon and John Salmons should be able to match Ray Allen and Paul Pierce point for point and Derrick Rose should be able to limit Rajon Rondo's production. This is a tough series to call but in the end it likely comes down to homecourt advantage. The Bulls are the worst road team in the playoffs (13-28) and the Celtics are one of the best home teams (35-6). This series should go much like Boston's first round series against Atlanta last year, where the home team won every game and that was the only reason Boston won the series.
X-factor: Brad Miller
Miller played brilliantly against the Celtics in the Bulls' March 17th win, putting up 21 pts, 14 reb, and 5 ast off the bench. Miller's shooting ability should allow him to draw shot-blockers like Kendrick Perkins away from the basket, opening up the lanes for Rose, Salmons, and Gordon. If he provides a spark on the glass as well, he could be a major asset for the Bulls.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
#6 Philadelphia 76ers (41-41) vs #3 Orlando Magic (59-23)
Season series: Magic lead 3-0
On paper, the Sixers actually match up reasonably well with the Magic. Athletic forwards Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala should be able to do a decent job containing Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. In addition, the Sixers have an advantage at point guard, after another strong season from Andre Miller. However, the Magic have Dwight Howard and the Sixers have no way to stop him. Samuel Dalembert the size and athleticism to at least make Howard work a bit, but he has been so erratic this season that it's hard to know what the Dalembert will give them in the playoffs. Unless Dalembert can slow down Howard one-on-one, the Sixers will be forced to double team and the Magic will kill them with three-point shooting.
X-factor: Marresse Speights
Speights has shown flashes of brilliance all season long, but has not always gotten the minutes he's needed to really shine. This is largely because of his spotty defense and inconsistent rebounding effort, but if the Sixers are going to have any shot at the upset, they will need Speights to come up big.
Prediction: Magic in 5
#5 Miami Heat (43-39) vs #4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35)
Season series: Hawks lead 3-1
Last year the Hawks were one of the stories of the playoffs, bringing the Celtics to the brink of playoff extinction, before succumbing in Game 7. Now they get to enjoy home court advantage for a round against the Heat. The Hawks didn't have much trouble with the Heat in the regular season, but it's hard to pick against a team with Dwyane Wade on it. The Hawks boast one of the most athletic and high-flying teams in the NBA, with Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford, plus veteran Mike Bibby at the point. On paper, they are superior to the Heat, but the Heat will have the best player on the floor in Wade. However, Wade can't do it by himself. He will need help from the likes of Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Beasley.
X-factor: Michael Beasley
While on the whole Beasley has had an uninspiring rookie season, he has caught fire of late since replacing the injured Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup. He has averaged 24.2 PPG in the last 5 games; a good sign for the Heat who need Beasley to be a solid number two for Wade.
Prediction: Heat in 6