It is that time of year again, when the NBA's best (for the most part) face off in playoffs in a run to make it to the NBA Finals. Sixteen teams square off in the first round on April 16 and 17 (four games each day), tipping off in Chicago when the Bulls take on the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference's first match-up. The Western Conference's first match-up will see the Portland Trailblazers compete against the Dallas Mavericks in the day's last game.
In the East, the Chicago Bulls will host every team they have to play, the reward for having the best record (62-20) in the conference (and with the NBA's best record overall, will also see them with home court advantage if they reach the 2011 NBA Finals). Also as a reward, they drew the team with the worst record to make the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers, who finished the season with a 37-45 record. Chicago enters the playoffs on a 9-1 tear (nine in a row) and looked well poised to win it all.
The Miami Heat also enter the playoffs on a roll. At 8-2 in their last ten games, the Heat vaulted over perennial favorite Boston to take the second spot in the East. They'll take on the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that finished at .500 for the season.
The aforementioned Boston Celtics finished third in the East and will take on the New York Knicks, a team that they swept all four games the teams played in the regular season. The Celtics enter the playoffs having lost six of their last ten but they won the last game of the season -- against the Knicks.
The final Eastern Conference match-up sees the Orlando Magic contesting the Atlanta Hawks in a series that might prove to be the least predictable. Although the Hawks finished the season eight games behind Orlando and enter the playoffs on a six-game losing streak, they also beat the Magic three times (of four) during the season.
The West saw one of their teams left behind, even though they had a better record than three of the teams making the 2011 playoffs in the East. The Houston Rockets, because of the structure of the playoff system (the top eight ranked teams in each conference make the post-season). But two of their fellow Texas squads made it.
The San Antonio Spurs, a team that held the best record in the NBA for almost the entire regular season, finished at the top in the West, one fame behind Chicago Bulls in the overall department (61-21). They take on the team with the worst record in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs lost six of their last ten games to allow the Bulls to take the overall record lead, which does not bode well going into the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Lakers, the defending 2010 NBA Finals champions, look the three-pete, coming into the playoffs in the second overall position. They also come in as one of only two teams making the Western playoffs that won their last regular season game. The Lakers take on the New Orleans Hornets, a team that has lost their last three games.
The Dallas Mavericks are the only other team in the West half of the playoffs bracket to enter on a winning note. In fact, the Mavericks have won their last four games. They are scheduled against the Portland Trailblazers, which have won six of their last ten (although they lost their last game).
The tightest contest in all the 2011 NBA Playoffs takes place between the fourth seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets. Only five games separated the two teams in the regular season, the Thunder having won 55 of their games. Three of those wins came at the expense of the Nuggets (series 3-1 overall in favor of Oklahoma City).
2011 NBA Playoffs Round One First Game Schedule
Indiana Pacers vs. Chicago Bulls, 1:00 p.m., ESPN
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Atlanta Hawks vs. Orlando Magic, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
Portland Trailblazers vs. Dallas Mavericks, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs, 1:00 p.m., TNT
New Orleans Hornets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 3:30 p.m., ABC
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics, 7:00 p.m., TNT
Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:30 p.m., TNT
(check local listings for specific channels; all times Eastern Standard)