1. Chicago Bulls vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks
The Bulls know what they have in Derrick Rose and they like it. With his late game heroics in Game 3 against Indiana the Bulls know they can count on him late in close games. Chicago will need more from Carlos Boozer who was next to being a no-show against the Pacers. Indiana has more size to compete with Boozer than Atlanta does which should bode well for him. Luol Deng was coming on late in the first round and should continue his upward trend. Kyle Korver was hitting big shots at crucial times during the first round. Chicago will be tested to see if they can prove they are the best team in the conference.
The Hawks got over the hump and beat a contender in the playoffs. Not that Orlando was going to make it to the Finals this year, but they were just two years removed from an appearance in the Finals. Joe Johnson was better than advertised for the Hawks. Al Horford held his own against Dwight Howard. Josh Smith was a defensive menace during their first round series. Jamal Crawford was a great catalyst off the bench against Orlando. They didn't have an answer for him, but it will be more difficult against the best defensive team in Chicago.
Bulls in 6 games
2. Miami Heat vs. 3. Boston Celtics
The most intriguing matcup of the playoffs is about to get underway. Will the result be the same as before with LeBron James and the Boston Celtics? Boston knows exactly what to do about LeBron, but they have to deal with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh as well. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have gotten a lot of rest which should help. Whether it will stop the Celtics from giving up any leads is yet to be determined. Rajon Rondo can't have any bad games if the Celtics are to take advantage of their one strength against the Heat.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh are playing their best at the right time. Their biggest problem is still trying to win close games. Boston knows that and figures they will be close through this series. Another problem for the Heat is who else can they count on? Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem won't be available and Miami can't expect Wade, LeBron and Bosh to be there every night against the defending conference champions. Thankfully for the Heat, Boston is banged up too with Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal battling injuries. Boston's depth isn't at its peak either.
Celtics in 6 games
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 3. Dallas Mavericks
It was tough for the Mavericks, but with some home cooking in Game 5 they rode that momentum into Game 6 in Portland and won decisively. It's hard to believe that this is the first time these two will meet in the playoffs. There was some bad blood the last time they met. That shouldn't boil over into the playoffs, but you do start to get tired of seeing the same face every other day. Dirk Nowitzki will need to play his 'A' game in this series. He poses a difficult matchup for the Lakers, but they also know that the Mavericks don't have many other options. Caron Butler is ruled out for this series. Jason Terry will have to be at his best off the bench. Dallas has Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to go against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but will it be enough?
The Lakers had a tough going with New Orleans, but their size ultimately was too much for the Hornets. Dallas has the depth to hang with the Lakers bigs, but it will be a daunting task. Pau Gasol should be better than he was against the Hornets. It was a good wake up call for him going forward. Kobe Bryant played to the Lakers strengths in the last two games against the Hornets. Lamar Odom and Ron Artest played well and even Matt Barnes and Steve Blake played a big part in the Lakers turn around against New Orleans. Depth is always important at this time and the Lakers win in that department.
Lakers in 6 games
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies
Believe it or not this will be a great series. Memphis doesn't even have their best player in Rudy Gay, but Zach Randolph was phenomenal against the Spurs. If he repeats that performance the Grizzlies will be looking at another upset. Tony Allen was all over Manu Ginobili. He will have to do the same against Kevin Durant, but it won't be easy. Marc Gasol has a tougher defensive matcup in Kendrick Perkins, but he should still be a force on offense. The key will be what Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo can do for the secondary scoring. If they contribute often they will make it tough for the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook has to play bigger than ever before. He is the one player that the Grizzlies will have trouble defending in the series. Another advantage for the Thunder is Kevin Durant. His relentless scoring ability was no match for the high scoring Denver Nuggets who couldn't keep up with Oklahoma. Memphis is more defensive minded and will have to hope Durant has a couple bad games. Serge Ibaka is beginning to realize his potential as an offensive player. That isn't good for the Grizzlies if they can stop Westbrook and Durant. James Harden is going to be a key component off the bench. If he can consistently score in double digits for the Thunder they will be looking at competing for the conference title.
Thunder in 6 games