Finally, after months of anticipation, the second season of basketball is upon us. The Eastern Conference has stole a lot of the thunder that the Western Conference has had throughout the decade, and boasts a trio of legitimate title contenders. Sit back, order a pizza and enjoy the court burns of playoff basketball.
No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons
Season series: 3-1 Cavs.
Outlook: LeBron James the new dominant force in the East against the old force, the Pistons, in a game that matches up James with Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons have struggled for much of year, and the dramatic change from the trade for Iverson never did take foot in Detroit. The Cavs will need to watch out for the experience and veteran leadership of the Pistons, but Detroit will need the fountain of youth to survive this daunting task.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Chicago Bulls
Season series: 2-1 Celtics
Outlook: The Bulls knew what they were getting when they drafted Derrick Rose last June, and he certainly as done his share to vie for the Rookie of Year, but it's the inside game of the Bulls that could be exploited by the defending champs. Joakim Noah will have the task of protecting the interior of rebounding forces like Garnet who is still battling a knee injury. The mid-season acquisition of Brad Miller could help Chicago, but not enough for the Bulls, who are still a year or two away from seriously contending.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
No. 3 Orlando Magic vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
Season series: 3-0 Magic
Outlook: The 76ers could face the same problem as Chicago, but on a more intense level. Orlando boasts one of the league's most daunting trios of forwards led by Dwight Howard, and they favorably match-up against an inside corps of Samuel Dalembert, Reggie Evans, and Andre Iguodala. If the Magic can hold Iguodala, and control the glass like they should, then they should be able to make quick work of Philly.
Prediction: Magic in 4
No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No 5. Miami Heat
Season series: 3-1 Hawks
Outlook: In what will be the most exciting and hotly contested match-up in the East, Atlanta and Miami will slug it out down south. Dwayne Wade has become a scoring machine for Miami, average over 30 a night, and will force the hand of the Atlanta defense. Luckily for the Hawks, home-court advance will be huge, as they swept all three games from the champion Celtics a year ago in Atlanta. Al Horford has played up his level from a year ago and the tandem of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith provide the power to disrupt Jamario Moon and Udonis Haslem. Overall this series has all the makings of a barn burner, it should be very interesting.
Prediction: Hawks in 7
Photo: Boston Globe