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The NBA playoffs are right around the corner, beginning April 16, and teams are preparing for the home stretch of the season. With the playoffs looming, there are several intriguing matchups in the Eastern Conference that will result in great playoff series, and must-watch TV.
No. 1 Bulls vs. No. 8 Pacers: The Bulls are neck and neck with the Celtics for the best record in the East, and as their team begins to get healthy, they have a solid starting five. Derrick Rose is unstoppable, and he is the engine that drives this team. Luol Deng, and Carlos Boozer are two nice scoring options, and Joakim Noah is a rebounding stud down low. The Pacers will have their hands full with the Bulls, but this young upstart team is fun to watch. They will enter the playoffs with a losing record, and although they boast good size inside with Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough, their guards will not be able to shut down Rose, and the Bulls just have too many offensive weapons to overwhelm the Pacers.
No. 2 Celtics vs. No. 7 Knicks: The Celtics could be the No. 1 or 2 seed in the East depending on how they finish the season. This difference between facing the Knicks, Sixers, or Pacers in the first round is huge. The Knicks with Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups are dangerous and exude playoff experience. The Knicks like to play a high tempo game which could wear out the Celtics’ older players, namely Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal. The Celtics added Shaq to help their playoff run, but his inability to run the floor in transition could make him ineffective on defense. Billups will have trouble keeping up with Rajon Rondo, and Ray Allen is always dangerous, but this could be a much more interesting series than a 2 vs. 7 matchup should be.
No. 3 Heat vs. No. 6 76ers: The Sixers have a nice young team that they have been building for several years now. Elton Brand has been healthy this year and back to his All-Star form. The team has talented young guards Jrue Holiday, and Jodie Meeks, with Evan Turner and Lou Williams coming off the bench, but Andre Iguodala is their biggest offensive threat, and the key to their potential playoff success. The Sixers are young and deep, but the big three of the Heat will be tough to shut down, especially in the playoffs. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James will be hungry and dangerous, and with some depth now on the bench with Mike Miller, Eddie House, and Mike Bibby. The Heat should be able to handle the up and coming Sixers, trying to shut-up most of the basketball world who hates them, or at least quiet their dissenters in the first round.
No. 4 Magic vs. No. 5 Hawks: The Magic overhauled their team early in the season to try to change the dynamics, and play more to Dwight Howard’s strengths. This team looks much different than the team that competed in the playoffs last season. The additions of Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu help make the team more dangerous, and Gilbert Arenas off the bench could come in, change the tempo, and fill up the basket when the team needs a spark. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford lead the Hawks, who seem to have a solid playoff team from year to year. They are a tough team to face, and although they are having more of a down year, they will still be a tough out for the Magic. This series could easily go seven games, but the dominance of Howard in the end will help the Magic edge out the Hawks who lack an answer to arguably the best center in the game.
This should be a year of great matchups in the East, with the wealth of stars now in the conference. Whoever ends up representing the Conference will be battle-tested, and they will be well suited to win a championship against whoever comes out of the West.