(1) Chicago Bulls (50-16)
1st round foe: (8) Philadelphia 76ers (35-31).
Biggest concern vs. 76ers: Don’t have a true superstar, but enough good players to make you have to compete to beat them.
Last 10: 7-3 (Won 3)
Strengths: Defense. The Bulls lead the NBA in fewest points allowed (88.17 per game). They have front-court depth, great team chemistry and a closer in Derrick Rose.
Weaknesses: Key injuries to their two best players – Rose and Luol Deng – make them vulnerable. Although they’ve had success without Rose, in the playoffs, he’ll need to be close to 100 percent to reach NBA Finals.
First option: Rose. When healthy, the 2010-11 NBA MVP is still a handful, but injuries have kept him from finding any kind of rhythm over an extended period of time. He’s still on one of the game’s best players who makes everybody better when on the court.
Second option: Deng. Has catch-and-shoot game and defends well. Really blossomed.
Key reserve: C.J. Watson. Is a Rose tweak away from starting. Has filled in nicely when Rose has been out.
Series prediction: Bulls in 5. Even with Rose battling multiple injuries, the Bulls have enough to push past the Sixers.
(2). Miami Heat (46-20)
1st round foe: (7) New York Knicks (36-30)
Biggest concern vs. Knicks: Stopping Carmelo Anthony. He’s been the game’s best player the last month of the season. Knicks are now defending, too.
Last 10: 6-4 (Lost 2)
Strengths: Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all go for big numbers on any night. When lock in defensively, Miami blows away team with its transition game.
Weaknesses: Not big on the inside to defend teams that can get to the rim. Bench hasn’t been nearly as productive as expected.
First option: James. The two-time MVP is playing the best ball of his career. Has enough of a low-post game to keep defenses honest. Still creates for others.
Second option: Wade. Can get his shot any time he wants. Is more deceptive to getting hurt than James, but is closer to Michael Jordan in terms of closing games than James.
Key reserve: Udonis Haslem. Having the versatility to guard bigger people on the inside, rebound and hit the open jump shot makes him a key component for the Heat.
Series prediction: Miami in 6. While the Knicks are just as talented as Miami, James won’t allow the Heat to fall this early in the playoffs.
(3). Indiana Pacers (42-24)
1st round foe: (6) Orlando Magic (37-29)
Biggest concern vs. Magic: Without Dwight Howard, Orlando will rely even more on the 3-point shot. If they get on a hot streak from deep, look out Indiana.
Last 10: 8-2 (Lost 1).
Strengths: Young, athletic and deep. Darren Collison is an underrated point guard, Roy Hibbert is now an All-Star. Pacers are certainly on the rise.
Weaknesses: Don’t really have a go-to player. Danny Granger and David West are very good players, but aren’t the type of players who tend to win games in the clutch.
First option: Granger. Has range on the jump shot, has improved in terms of creating his own shot and his nearly automatic from the line (87.3 percent FT shooter)
Second option: Hibbert. When utilized, he can score in the low post. Really worked on his body to become an effective player.
Key reserve: Tyler Hansbrough. Instant energy off the bench. Relentless.
Series prediction: Pacers in 5. The Magic will get one win because they can get hot for a game from long range.
(4) Boston Celtics (39-27)
1st round foe: (5) Atlanta Hawks (40-26)
Biggest concern vs. Hawks: Joe Johnson can go score for score with Pierce, they can defend and actually have more talent than the Celtics on a whole.
Last 10: 7-3 (Won 2)
Strengths: Experience, a closer in Paul Pierce and a coach in Doc Rivers who gets the maximum out of his players. Rajon Rondo makes the whole thing work.
Weaknesses: Goes through stretches when it relies too much on defense instead of trying to get easy buckets. Bench is inconsistent.
First option: Pierce. Has gotten in better shape as the season has gone on. Can now play at peak level all game.
Second option: Kevin Garnett. Having the ability to knock down the open jumper makes the opposing five-man guard him, thus open driving lanes for Rondo.
Key reserve: Brandon Bass. Big man can spread the floor and rebound.
Series prediction: Celtics in 6. Atlanta has better talent, but Boston’s Big 3, coupled with Rajon Rondo’s play-making ability, gives the Celtics the edge.