Chicago Bulls (1) VS Philadelphia 76ers (8)
While seated at the farthest ends of the bracket, these teams have more than a few things in common: they get steady production at every position, they share the belief they’ll take it to another level this Playoffs, and they’re both defense-oriented. They are the two best in holding down opponent’s scoring (the Bulls average 88.4 in points allowed; the Sixers, 89.1). In their three regular season games, twice the Bulls beat the Sixers, but the 7-point margin average in those wins suggests that this series will be closer than their positioning might say.
The drama: The Rose conundrum
Foot injuries have bothered Bulls star, Derrick Rose, throughout the season. Yet, that hasn’t exactly prevented him from running circles around the Sixers. In the two regular season games he played in, the former MVP averaged 26.5 points and 7 assists. He’s a legitimate go-to-guy; in the closing minutes especially, the ball will be in his hands, afraid not to shoot. A Derrick Rose is exactly what the 76ers lack.
Tough as defender stalwart, Andre Iguodala, is, and effective as guard Jrue Holiday was in their meetings, averaging 21 ppg—Rose is simply the type who propels teams to victories.
The case for ratings: Iguodala’s array of moves—the dunks, the behind-the-back passes, and the fearsome defense—will be on full display as he attempts to advance to the second round for the first time. Off the Sixer’s bench is Evan Turner who will be out to prove what he once said: “I was better than Rose.” Turner once played big in a high school match against Rose in 2007; yet they lost. The bench player has a beef with his former rival, which could always lead to a spectacular breakout performance. On the other team, there’s Rose, who we heard jumps pretty high.
Who wins: Bulls. As similar as these teams are—and even with an angry Turner—the Bulls are more experienced, having reached the Conference Finals a year ago.
Miami Heat (2) VS New York Knicks (7)
The Knicks not winning a single game against the Heat in the regular season is not enough an issue for this series to lose its title as the first round’s most compelling. Lebron James, an MVP candidate, and Carmelo Anthony, who averaged 29.8 ppg in April, are playing out of their minds. The spotlight shines brightest upon them even with other stars in tow. The Heat are a favorite to win it all since season’s start, but the Knicks can’t be ignored: under interim coach Mike Woodson, they have compiled 17 wins and only six losses, with much-improved defense
The drama: The devil inside
Tyson Chandler—reigning champ Dallas’ former center—roams the paint for the Knicks. For Lebron and company, last year’s runner up, this is sure to be a scary sight. A different cast surrounds Chandler yet his intentions remain the same: protect the rim. The defensive player of the year candidate should be a test of the Heat’s mettle. Will they keep attacking the ring—the team’s bread and butter—or will they settle for jump shots? Figuring that one out should be Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s top priority instead of saying things like “Everybody is looking forward to the second season,”—something he said as the regular season wound down. Such an attitude is dangerous, especially against a team with players that can just suddenly get hot.
The case for ratings: Lebron and Wade never fail to put on a show; the Knicks love taking and making 3-point shots (always a fan favorite, and something the Heat have to stop); and the glamour of the Knicks’ home court, Madison Square Garden, makes this one an easy sell—like we said, it’s the most compelling first round series.
Who wins: Heat. An upset for the Knicks is possible only if all these things happen: all their 3-point shots fall, Amar’e takes full advantage of the Heat’s lack of a Chandler, and the Heat get lazy on D.
NEXT: Indiana Vs. Orlando and Celtics Vs. Hawks