Shallow East Should Be Cinch for Higher Seeds

Chicago and Miami will win easily in first round; Indiana and Boston should squeak by too.

What’s to stop the Bulls and Heat from a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals? Six other teams stand in their way, but do they have what it takes to undercut a hobbled D-Rose or runaway train King James in a seven-game series?

Philly Just Happy to Be Here

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers, who struggled down the stretch and should feel fortunate to even get in the playoffs, wanted this matchup.

On paper, it’s better than playing Miami since the health of Derrick Rose will be questioned the entire postseason.

With or without D-Rose, the Bulls will easily take this series. Had Rose been healthy, this would be a sweep for sure. It still might as Chicago was the best defensive team in the NBA, giving up just 88.1 points per game.

The Bulls will eat the Sixers up on defense. Philly doesn’t have any major scorers. Lou Williams led the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game and he comes off the bench.

The pick: Bulls in five.

Grandpa Can Still Walk

No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

Even though Atlanta is the lower seed, the Hawks will have home-court advantage because they finished with a better record. Boston is the Atlantic Division champion and played its best basketball late in the season.

The Hawks will be without power forward Al Horford, who has missed almost the entire season because of a torn pectoral muscle. Horford had hoped to be back by the first round of the playoffs, but he had a setback.

The Beast Coast

No. 1 Chicago Bulls (50-16) vs. No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers (35-31); Bulls won season series, two games to one.

No. 4 Boston Celtics (39-27) vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks (40-26); Celtics won season series, two games to one.

No. 2 Miami Heat (46-20) vs. No. 7 New York Knicks (36-30); Heat won season series, three games to none.

No. 3 Indiana Pacers (42-24) vs. No. 6 Orlando Magic (37-29); Magic won season series, three games to one.

Boston will bottle up Atlanta’s only threats, guard Joe Johnson and super leaper forward Josh Smith. The C’s were one of three teams in the NBA to hold opponents to under 90 pots per game.

Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still have enough in the tank to win one playoff series.

The pick: Celtics in six.

Heatwave Too Much for New York

No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 New York Knicks

One team has eyes on winning a title while the other just wants to make it out of the first round.

Miami, despite all the questions about its bench and interior play, won’t have much of a problem against the Knicks.

Yes, Carmelo Anthony may go off for 40 points or more a few times, but what will happen to Amar’e Stoudemire, who also needs the ball to be effective? Stoudemire doesn’t rebound, doesn’t make plays and isn’t much of a defender. Plus, he’s coming back from an injury and could be rusty.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be too much for New York to contain.

The pick: Heat in five.

No Howard, No Chance

No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Orlando Magic

Without Dwight Howard, this series is academic. Howard is the most dominant force in the NBA and Orlando will miss him terribly.

The Magic probably don’t slip as far as No. 6 if Howard plays during the last two weeks of the season.

Indiana is on the rise. It has terrific young players in Danny Granger, Paul George and Roy Hibbert. The addition of veteran forward David West has pushed the Pacers into the upper echelon of the East.

They will squash whatever smurfs are left on the Magic. Indiana may stumble in a couple of games because they are young, but know that this team will be in the second round.

The pick: Pacers in six.

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