The 2012 NBA Playoffs are here after the lockout-shortened 66-game schedule ran it's course. There were surprises this season like the San Antonio Spurs resurgence while in the East, the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were the class of the conference as expected.
But that's all over now and it's time for postseason basketball to get underway. There are certainly some interesting match-ups in store and you can find an index of each team's playoff preview here.
Here's the TV schedule for Saturday's first round games and my predictions. Sunday's schedule and predictions will be posted on Sunday morning.
Chicago Bulls (1) Vs. Philadelphia 76ers (8)
TV Schedule: Saturday at 1:00 p.m. ET/ 10:00 a.m. PT on TNT
Chicago finished the season with the best record in the East (50-16) despite having Derrick Rose miss 27 out of 66 games. The Bulls have a devastatingly deep front line (Joakim Noah, Omer Asik, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson) and plenty of talent on the wings. They finished the season as the league's best defensive team and fifth-best offensive unit.
Philadelphia (35-31) got off to a hot start but as the season wore on their high-energy style of play was exposed and they struggled hard to score in the fourth quarter of games. They do have a handful of great athletes like Thadeus Young, Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday and if they can play good defense and push the tempo they should be able to win a game or two.
Prediction: Bulls in five.
Miami Heat (2) Vs. New York Knicks (7)
TV Schedule: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET / 12:30 p.m. PT on ABC
The Miami Heat (46-20) were the favorite to win the NBA title headed into this season. They got out to a hot start but faded a bit down the stretch. Rookie point guard Norris Cole regressed and the overall level of energy and play has been suspect in the final weeks. Still, the talent level can't be denied and it's highly possible that Heat were simply in cruise control mode and will turn it up a level in the playoffs.
The New York Knicks (36-30) have had an up and down season with all kinds of injuries, a coaching change, and stretches of good ball followed by bad ball followed by good ball. They are 18-6 under new coach Mike Woodson and will have Amare Stoudemire back for the first round. Still, the Knicks don't match up well against the Heat and aren't disciplined enough defensively to handle the speed and power of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Prediction: Heat in five.
Indiana Pacers (3) Vs. Orlando Magic (6)
TV Schedule: Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET / 4:00 p.m. PT on ESPN
The Pacers are an up-and-coming team with a combination of veteran talent (Danny Granger and David West) and young studs (Paul George, Darren Collison, and Roy Hibbert). The team has a great combination of wings and bigs and should easily handle the Orlando Magic who are without Dwight Howard who's back surgery has sidelined him for the season.
Prediction: Pacers in five.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) Vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
TV Schedule: Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT on ESPN
The Thunder (47-19) were one of the top teams in the West all season but an 8-7 April dropped them to the second-seed. They, like the Heat, however, should be able to turn it up and notch and avenge their 2011 series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
Dallas (36-30) was unimpressive defending their title during the regular season, but they still are well coached and have vets that know how to win in the post season. Even with a healthy James Harden, the Thunder are going to have their hands full.
Prediction: Thunder in six.