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No. 1 CHICAGO BULLS (62-20) vs. No. 8 INDIANA PACERS (37-45)


Season series: Bulls, 3-1. Chicago limited Indiana to an average of 82.7 points while winning the first three meetings before the Pacers earned a 115-108 overtime victory on March 18 in the final matchup. Derrick Rose scored a season-high 42 points in that game and averaged 27 in the series for the Bulls, who had the pairing of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah together for only their 92-73 rout on Dec. 13.


Storyline: With the best record in the NBA — and their best since Michael Jordan's final season — the Bulls begin the quest for their first championship since Jordan left after winning his sixth in 1998.


Key Matchup I: Luol Deng vs. Danny Granger. Deng, whose fine season was overshadowed by Rose's brilliance, scored at least 15 points in all four meetings. Granger had a pair of 19-point outings and scored 22 in another, but the Pacers showed how much they need their leading scorer when they shot just 36 percent without him in the Dec. 13 loss.


Key Matchup II: Noah vs. Roy Hibbert. Noah played only twice this season against Indiana and now will be counted on to continue the Bulls' excellent defensive play against the 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who totaled just 10 points in the Pacers' three losses before scoring 15 in their lone victory.


X-Factor: Tyler Hansbrough. Wasn't a part of the rotation for much of the season and played in only one of the first three meetings, then had 29 points and 12 rebounds in Indiana's win.


Prediction: Bulls in 5.

No. 2 MIAMI HEAT (58-24) vs. No. 7 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (41-41)


Season series: Heat, 3-0. Miami's Big Three earned its first victory together with a 97-87 win at Philadelphia on Oct. 27, then beat the 76ers twice at home. Dwyane Wade averaged 30.7 points and the Heat held the 76ers to 92 per game.


Storyline: The Heat, who closed the regular season playing at the level that was expected of them when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami, open with a Philadelphia team that exceeded expectations in Doug Collins' first season as coach but struggled down the stretch.


Key matchup I: James vs. Andre Iguodala. Iguodala's defensive skills earned him a starting spot on the U.S. world championship team last summer. He'll have to be at his best against James, who scored only 16 and 20 points in the first two games before going for 32 in Miami's 111-99 victory on March 25.


Key matchup II: Bosh vs. Elton Brand. Bosh got better in every game against the 76ers, topped by a 20-point, 10-rebound performance in the final meeting. Brand's resurgence after a couple of forgettable seasons in Philadelphia was a good story and one of the keys to the Sixers' success, but he had no game higher than 12 points against the Heat.


X-factor: Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams. If the 76ers have any advantage in the series, it's when the teams go to their benches. Young was in double figures all three games, while Williams scored 24 as a reserve in the March 25 game.


Prediction: Heat in 4.

No. 3 BOSTON CELTICS (56-26) vs. No. 6 NEW YORK KNICKS (42-40)


Season series: Celtics, 4-0. Boston completed the sweep on the final night of the season, when Amare Stoudemire was the only one of the combined six All-Stars on the teams who played. The Celtics won by four and then two in the first two meetings, then pulled away in the final three minutes of a 96-86 victory on March 21, the only one Carmelo Anthony played in.


Storyline: Like last season, the Celtics hope to prove their late-season struggles were meaningless and start another run to the NBA finals against the Knicks, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and believe they are a dangerous underdog in the 14th postseason matchup between the longtime rivals.


Key matchup I: Paul Pierce vs. Anthony. The Celtics have long had one of the NBA's best closers in Pierce, who made the tiebreaking jumper with 0.4 seconds left in their 118-116 victory at New York on Dec. 15. Now the Knicks have an answer in Anthony, who has an NBA-high 16 go-ahead field goals in the last 10 seconds since 2003.


Key matchup II: Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups. Rondo's sensational play was the catalyst for the Celtics' run last spring and he must pick it up now after a mediocre finish to this season. Billups has all the experience and clutch ability a team could want, but not enough speed to stay with his much younger counterpart.


X-factor: Toney Douglas. The Knicks are a different team when the streaky backup guard is making 3-pointers, and they may have to call on him often to defend Rondo.


Prediction: Celtics in 6.

No. 4 ORLANDO MAGIC (52-30) vs. No. 5 ATLANTA HAWKS (44-38)


Season series: Hawks, 3-1. Atlanta won the last three meetings, doing a solid job on Dwight Howard and limiting the Magic to 79 points per game in its wins. Howard averaged 19.3 points and 14.3 rebounds, but his 43.1 percent shooting against the Hawks was his worst against any opponent. Joe Johnson, who had a nightmare series when these teams met in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals, bounced back with 19.3 points per game against Orlando this season.


Storyline: Rematch of last season's second-round series, the most lopsided four-game sweep in NBA history. Orlando won by an average of 25.3 points and the Hawks would go on to change coaches, replacing Mike Woodson with Larry Drew.


Key matchup I: Howard vs. Al Horford. After shooting 10 of 20 for 27 points in Orlando's Nov. 8 victory, Howard was held below 50 percent in the last three games, including a 4-for-13 showing in the Atlanta's 85-82 victory on March 30. Horford had only 11 points in that game, but had a pair of 16-point games and scored 24 in another matchup.


Key matchup II: Jameer Nelson vs. Kirk Hinrich. Nelson, perhaps Orlando's best clutch player, dominated Mike Bibby in last year's sweep and now hopes to duplicate that against Hinrich, acquired by the Hawks when they dealt Bibby to Washington in February. Nelson, limited to two games against the Hawks this season, scored 20 points and Hinrich managed just five on 2-for-9 shooting in the lone matchup with Hinrich in Atlanta.


X-factor: Josh Smith. The Magic don't have a great option to defend the power forward spot, and the versatile Smith, who averaged 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.3 blocks, could be able to take advantage of his matchup.


Prediction: Magic in 6.


No. 1 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (61-21) vs. No. 8 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (46-36)


Season series: Tied, 2-2. San Antonio won the first two at home, and the Grizzlies won a pair in Memphis in March, averaging 110 points and shooting better than 52 percent in both. Tim Duncan missed one of those losses and was largely outplayed by Zach Randolph in the other three.


Storyline: Back in the postseason for the first time since 2006 and still seeking their first victory in a playoff game after 12 losses, the Grizzlies start against a Spurs team that could open without All-Star Manu Ginobili, who sprained his right elbow in the regular-season finale and is doubtful for the opener.


Key matchup I: Duncan vs. Randolph. Randolph had four 20-point, 10-rebound games, including a 24-21 game in the Spurs' Dec. 18 victory. Duncan's stats have been down in recent years and he didn't score more than 13 against Memphis, but remains one of the top defenders at his position and should be more of a factor offensively playing more minutes in the postseason.


Key matchup II: Tony Parker vs. Mike Conley. In his best season in the NBA, Conley averaged 15.5 points against the Spurs. He now faces one of the few players who can match his quickness in Parker, who had a 37-point outing against Memphis and likely will be looking to score as long as Ginobili is out.


X-factor: Tony Allen. Has brought solid defensive play and postseason experience from his years in Boston, and has been a scorer against the Spurs. He scored 20 in both Memphis wins, and he's likely the best option to defend Ginobili.


Prediction: Spurs in 6.

No. 2 LOS ANGELES (57-25) vs. No. 7 NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (46-36)


Season series: Lakers, 4-0. Los Angeles posted three double-digit victories, the Hornets never cracked 100 points, and Chris Paul admitted "this is not a team we match up with good this year" after the final and most lopsided meeting, the Lakers' 102-84 victory on March 27. Kobe Bryant had a pair of 30-point games and averaged 26.8.


Storyline: Seeking a third straight NBA title, the Lakers open against the Hornets, whose surprisingly strong season was ruined when power forward David West was lost with a torn knee ligament.


Key matchup I: Pau Gasol vs. Carl Landry. Landry's solid play helped the Hornets hold on to a playoff spot after West went down, and he scored 24 points against the Lakers in the most recent meeting. But Gasol was dominant this season against New Orleans, averaging 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds, and shooting 70.5 percent from the field.


Key matchup II: Derek Fisher vs. Chris Paul. Fisher had paltry numbers against the Hornets, but the Lakers know they can count on him in the postseason. His role here is defense against Paul, who probably has to be at his sensational best with West out to give the Hornets a chance.


X-factor: Emeka Okafor. In his first postseason, he has to not only defend against the Lakers' depth inside but find a way to provide some offense as well.


Prediction: Lakers in 4.



Season series: Tied, 2-2. Dallas won the first two meetings, and Portland took the last two at home later in the season after acquiring Gerald Wallace. Dallas guard Jason Kidd had a combined one point in the Mavericks' losses, missing all six shots in a scoreless outing on April 3.


Storyline: Following two straight first-round eliminations, the Blazers seem to be considered the trendy underdog pick this year, even though Dallas won its final four games to tie for the second-best record in the Western Conference.


Key matchup I: Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. The Mavs won on Jan. 4 at home against Portland without their All-Star forward, who faces an opponent who also enjoys popularity in Dallas. Aldridge is a native of the city who played at Texas and had a pair of 30-point outings against his hometown team.


Key matchup II: Tyson Chandler vs. Marcus Camby. Neither will be counted on for his offense, but they are two of the top rim protectors in the league, and their defense will be key in a series that doesn't figure to be high scoring.


X-factor: Rodrigue Beaubois. Both Kidd and Jason Terry had their struggles against Portland's tough defense, and if that continues the Mavs will need a big contribution from Beaubois, who averaged 17 points in his two appearances against the Blazers.


Prediction: Trail Blazers in 6.

No. 4 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (55-27) vs. No. 5 DENVER NUGGETS (50-32)


Season series: Thunder, 3-1. Oklahoma City won the season series with a pair of victories in April, including a 101-94 win on April 5 that was Kevin Durant's first in Denver. The NBA's leading scorer averaged 31.5 points in the series.


Storyline: The Thunder are considered one of the top challengers to the Lakers in the Western Conference, but draw a dangerous first-round opponent in the Nuggets, who went 18-7 after trading Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks in February.


Key Matchup I: Russell Westbrook vs. Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton. The Nuggets have a solid duo to play against Oklahoma's All-Star point guard, but Lawson, perhaps a better option because of his speed, sprained his left ankle in the season finale.


Key Matchup II: Kendrick Perkins vs. Nene. Perkins, acquired from Boston to bring some interior defense and toughness, exchanged some words and shoves with Nene in the last two meetings. The Brazilian center had only seven points on 3-of-10 shooting in the April 5 game, a poor outing for the NBA's leading shooter.


X-Factor: James Harden. Must provide the third scoring option behind Durant and Westbrook, especially because the Thunder bench could have difficulties matching the deeper Nuggets one.


Prediction: Thunder in 7.