Now that the shortened 66-game season has come to an end, it is time to turn our attention to the postseason. The Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat were the toast of the Eastern Conference in 2011-2012, but there are a few teams that could make some noise in the East and possibly prevent a rematch between the Heat and Bulls. Without further ado, here is a preview of the opening round of the 2012 playoffs.
Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia 76ers:
The Sixers began the year playing well but faded in the second half of the season, while the Bulls have been the top team in the East for most of the season. Both teams are similar in the fact they rely on tough defense to fuel their respective offenses. The x-factor in this series is the health of Derrick Rose. If Rose is able to regain the form he was playing with before he went down with injuries, the Bulls should win in four or five games. However, if Rose is forced to be a facilitator due to lack of explosiveness, it could prove to be a longer series than most of us fans would expect. In either case, with the solid play of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, along with the emergence of Rip Hamilton, the Bulls should have enough weapons to move on to the next round.
Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks:
Carmelo Anthony has played well over the past month to say the least and adding Amare Stoudemire back to the lineup, provides the Knicks with a one-two punch on offense. As everyone knows though, the Knicks are not a good defensive team and you have to be sound defensively, if you are going to have a chance to defeat the Heat's big three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In my opinion, the Heat have the same holes as a year ago, lacking depth in bench scoring along with an inconsistent play on the front line. However, it is doubtful that New York will be able to expose those shortcomings. The Knicks will keep it interesting, but the Heat should win this one in five games.
Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic:
The Pacers barely snuck into the playoffs last year and gave the top-seeded Bulls all they could handle in a grueling five-game series. With the additions of George Hill and David West, it is not surprising they are the third seed in the conference this year. The Magic have had all kinds of problems with the Dwight Howard trade situation and then Howard being forced to miss the rest of the season due to a back injury. Some analysts have said the Magic are playing better basketball without Howard in the lineup. While that may be debatable, what is a fact is the Magic don't stand a chance against the Pacers in this series without their top player in the fold. Not only am I predicting the Pacers to win the series, I think they will probably be the only team to sweep their first-round series in the conference.
Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks:
This is the least intriguing series in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. In what will probably be the last hurrah for the trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, look for the Celtics to try to turn it up a notch in this series. The Celtics rested some players down the stretch in hopes they would be healthy for the postseason.
Atlanta is led by the talented duo of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, who can both put points on the board in a hurry. The one negative aspect about this team is they tend to play stretches of one-on-one basketball, which often gives their opponent a decisive edge. The Celtics won in seven games when these teams met in the 2008 playoffs, but the Hawks have the home-court advantage this time around. Being that that the Celtics are the more desperate team, I see them winning this series in six or seven games.
James Tillman is a resident of the Chicago-land area, who has been a Bulls' fan since the 1987-1988 season. James is also a Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo and a Sports Journalist for Sports Rantz Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jtillman9693.