6. Knicks vs. 3. Celtics
The Celtics swept the series 4-0, but those games didn’t mean anything. Boston’s defense ranks second; the Knicks are a dismal 22nd in ppg allowed.
Player to watch: Shaquille O’Neal. The Celtics have been terrible inside since dealing Kendrick Perkins. A healthy Shaq would fill the void nicely.
The pick: BOS in five
8. Pacers vs. 1. Bulls
This marks the first time since the Jordan era that the Bulls enter as the East’s No. 1 seed. Pressure? Sure, but Chicago is too loaded to lose to the 37-45 Pacers.
Player to watch: Derrick Rose. He’s the obvious pick, but the league’s surefire MVP is a beast. He’s going to make Darren Collison wish he were back at UCLA.
The pick: CHI in four
5. Hawks vs. 4. Magic
Revenge is on the Hawks’ minds after they were destroyed by Orlando in the semis last year by 25 points per game. They still have no answer for Dwight Howard.
Player to watch: Jameer Nelson. He rarely gets mentioned among the elite point guards, but he should. Nelson doesn’t turn it over and can bury a 3-pointer when needed.
The pick: ORL in six
7. Sixers vs. 2. Heat
The Sixers boast the NBA’s third-best fastbreak offense, but trying to run with LeBron, Bosh and D-Wade is certain disaster. Miami went 3-0 against the Sixers this season.
Player to watch: Thaddeus Young. Sixth Man of the Year candidate leads one of the NBA’s best benches. Plus, he’ll spell Iguodala at times and guard LeBron.
The pick: MIA in five.
5. Nuggets vs. 4. Thunder
Two teams that rocked the NBA trade deadline. The Thuggets are a nice
little story of trying and teamwork, but OKC is loaded with way more
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook. The Thunder PG wore down after a productive start to last year’s series vs LAL.
The pick: OKC in five
8. Grizzlies vs. 1. Spurs
Tough break for the Spurs. If they were in the East, they’d be playing a .500 team. Instead, they get Memphis, which would be the East’s 5 seed.
Player to watch: Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies’ heart and soul sat the last two games of the regular season. Will he turn up rested or rusty come Sunday?
The pick: SAS in six
7. Hornets vs. 2. Lakers
The Lakers are treading carefully with Andrew Bynum (bruised knee), and the Hornets are without David West’s 18.9 ppg (knee surgery).
Player to watch: Andrew Bynum. The Lakers are going to win the series, but how Bynum looks will determine how far they’ll advance. If he’s hurt badly, they’re done.
The pick: LAL in five
6. Blazers vs. 3. Mavericks
The Mavs won 50 games for the 11th straight season but have been knocked out of the first round in three of the last four years. This could be their last chance.
Player to watch: Gerald Wallace. Portland is 2-0 against Dallas since trading for the athletic forward, who went 8 for 10 with 19 points in their last matchup.
The pick: DAL in seven