As another grueling 82 season ends, another chapter begins with the NBA playoffs. We take a look at each first round playoff series with a matchup to watch and predictions. This is on the Eastern Conference, be sure to check out the preview of the West.

#1 Indiana Pacers vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks           

The Easts’ best team certainly lost momentum as the season winded down, with head Coach Frank Vogel even benching his starters twice in a week. Nonetheless, the injury depleted Hawks (without Star Al Horford) shouldn’t poise to much a threat from the inside or, outside especially on offense. The Hawks should be able to sneak in a game or two if Indiana isn’t on its toes.

Matchup to watch: David West (IND) vs. Paul Milsap (ATL)

Prediction: Pacers wins 4-2

#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats

Although the Heat were hoping to secure the 1st seed late in the season for potential home court advantage during a possible matchup with Indiana, health is much more important to this Heat team with LeBron James and Chris Bosh both missing the last week of the season due to rest. The Bobcats pose somewhat of a mismatch due to them having probably the 3rd best Center in the game in Al Jefferson since Miami doesn’t have a good defensive big man. However, LeBron simply can’t be guarded by a player like Michael Kidd-Gilchrest for a whole series. Expect Jefferson to single handily win a game for Charlotte but not much after that. Also it might help LeBron that the last time he faced this team, he put up a career high 62 points, all seems right for now in Miami with this series.

Matchup to watch: Al Jefferson (CHA) vs. Chris Bosh (MIA)

 Prediction: Heat win 4-1.

#3 Toronto Raptors vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets

I think the Nets are actually happy they slide to the 6th seed late this week to avoid the slugfest that comes with the Chicago Bulls. The Nets (who are easily the league’s oldest team) actually is favored by most people in this series. The Raptors were fortunate to have this high a seed mainly due to them being one of the only teams to remain healthy. However, with veterans, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson leading the way, the Raptors actually seem overmatched. Regardless, this series has all the makings of a game 7. The tilting factor is Toronto (who is led by All Star Demar Derozen) doesn’t have any contributing players with real playoff experience. Put them up versus a Nets team with nothing but experience, and it looks like an “upset” for Brooklyn.

 Matchup to watch: Joe Johnson vs. Demar Derozen.

Prediction: Nets win 4-3.

#4 Chicago Bulls vs.  #5 Washington Wizards

The Bulls have lost 2 top 40 players this season (Derrick Rose and Luol Deng) and yet are still a 4 seed? Credit to coach Tom Thibodeau for once again proving hustle and defense can still get you places in the league. The Bulls and Wizards are two different teams; Chicago is a slow the ball, rugged defense ugly looking offense team while Washington is a fast paced team. Led by star point guard John Wall, the Wizards simply don’t have the type of scoring power to offset probably the best defense in the league who is led by the likely Defensive Player of the year in Joakim Noah. However if the Wizards do get hot, they could make this series very interesting and possibly upset Chicago.

Matchup to watch: Marcin Gortat (WSH) VS. Joakim Noah (CHI)

 Prediction: Bulls win 4-2.

Be sure to check back after the first rounds are over for my take on the semi-finals matchups in about 10-14 days.