At long last the postseason march begins in the East, and the end of the journey seems to be inevitable -- a rousing matchup between Cleveland and Orlando. But, given the vicissitudes of any high-level athletic competition, anything can happen between now and then.
CAVS (1) VS. BULLS (8)
Why Cleveland should win.
The Cavs are bigger, better, deeper, faster, quicker, more talented and more experienced. Plus, LeBron should run wild, making this the biggest first-round mismatch in the East.
Why Chicago could win.
The Bulls' only chance is for Godzilla to emerge from the murky depths of Lake Erie and eat Cleveland.
MAGIC (2) VS. BOBCATS (7)
Why Orlando should win.
None of the Bobcats' centers can unilaterally prevent Dwight Howard from dominating both baskets. When Howard is necessarily double-teamed, the Magic's reliable 3-point shooters will be left unattended.
Matt Barnes' ornery defense can confound and frustrate Gerald Wallace.
Rashard Lewis is too big and too versatile for Boris Diaw to contain.
Vince Carter should light up Stephen Jackson.
Jameer Nelson always finds a way to make Orlando's dynamic screen/rolls pay handsome dividends.
J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrius are primo bench players.
Orlando's offense can play both outside-in and inside-out with equal effectiveness.
The Bobcats have trouble scoring anyway, but Howard's shot blocking will further limit Charlotte's inside offense.
With the Magic's overwhelming board power generating extra shots, there should easily be several lopsided games.
Why the Bobcats could win.
Jackson's offense is extremely erratic, but he's certainly capable of an extended hot streak that could be the basis for an upset.
Raymond Felton is tough and smart enough to trump Nelson's inferior defense.
Boris Diaw is solid and surprisingly good at scoring within the context of the offense.
If Gerald Wallace's long-range shots are dropping, Orlando's defense will become vulnerable to his high-stepping attacks on the rim.
The quick agility and extraordinary athleticism of Tyrus Thomas is Charlotte's X-factor. If he can make wise decisions, Thomas just might be too much for Orlando's defense to handle.
HAWKS (3) VS. BUCKS (6)
Why Atlanta should win.
The Hawks might be undersized, but they're extremely fast up and down the court, and even quicker to the ball.
Josh Smith is one of the most talented players in the NBA, and now that he has forsaken his inept 3-point shooting, his overall offense is dramatically improved. Also, Smith is an elite shot blocker and an underrated post defender.
Joe Johnson can't be stopped unless he's two-timed, but JJ's ability to deliver crafty passes to open teammates will shred Milwaukee's defensive schemes.
Mike Bibby rarely misses the open shots generated by all the defensive focus on Josh Smith and Iso-Joe. Also, Brandon Jennings plays no discernible defense.
Al Horford can drop mid-range jumpers and is a scrappy rebounder and defender. He's too quick and too active for the ancient Kurt Thomas to handle.
Mo Evans provides defense and perimeter shooting off the bench.
Zaza Pachulia is always aggressive at both ends of the court, and is far superior to Primoz Brezec, who moves into the backup slot in the middle with Andrew Bogut unavailable. In fact, Brezec is probably the worst big man in the league.
And Jamal Crawford is easily the NBA's most explosive sixth man.
With Bogut down and out, the Bucks will be unable to take advantage of the Hawks' lack of size up front.
Jennings is a rookie who will have difficulty make correct decisions under the increased playoff pressure.
Moreover, Atlanta's superior athleticism should make the difference -- especially since Milwaukee's interior defense is now extremely vulnerable.
Why the Bucks could win.
Jennings' warp-speed could leave Bibby breathless.
John Salmons has stepped up and become an authentic fail-safe scorer who could easily get JJ into chronic foul trouble.
Carlos Delfino is a streaky outside shooter who can spread the floor if his shots are falling.
Look for Ersan Ilysova to get increased playing time and more scoring opportunities. He's too quick to be hampered by Evans' defense, and too big for JJ.
Dan Gadzuric will more than match Horford's hustle.
Charlie Bell is a versatile player who can do whatever is necessary to keep the Hawks competitive.
Jerry Stackhouse is a savvy veteran who knows how to score.
If all the Bucks bring their A-game, they'd have a chance of winning the seventh game.
CELTICS (4) VS. HEAT (5)
Why Boston can win.
Because the travel time is drastically diminished in the playoffs and there are no back-to-back games, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will be able to rest their old bones more than they could during the regular season.
KG's long-armed defense will make life miserable for the erratic Michael Beasley.
PP's powerhouse isos will destroy Quentin Richardson's lead-footed defense.
Ray Allen's exemplary utilization of weak-side screens will confound Miami's team defense.
Kendrick Perkins should overpower Jermaine O'Neal in the paint.
Tony Allen's persistent defense can even bother the great Dwyane Wade.
Rajan Rondo will be an uncontrolled hurricane that will blow away the flimsy defensive efforts of Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo.
Even the underachieving Rasheed Wallace will have a rebirth against O'Neal. When matched against Joel Anthony, Wallace will be able to roam the lane freely on defense, shoot uncontested triples and use his height advantage to post up for profit.
Never underestimate the clutch scoring of Michael Finley.
Boston's championship chops will be sky-high and the loose defense that plagued the Celtics during much of the regular season will be tightened into a noose.
Why Miami could win.
The wondrous D-Wade could blast gaping holes in Boston's vaunted defense -- particularly if his jumpers are on target. Also, his relentless defense could easily shut down Ray Allen.
Udonis Haslem will battle Garnett on more than equal terms.
Q-Rich can always go off if his defender gets careless.
If O'Neal is hitting his mid-range jumpers, Perkins will be forced to play defense so far away from the rim that he'll have a difficult time finding his way back.
Given that Wade will be sensational, the keys to Miami's success will be Dorell Wright and Beasley. The former has the lively talents and accurate jumpers to bedevil Garnett, Pierce or whoever tries to contain him. The latter must produce big-time for Miami to have a legitimate shot at advancing.
The Heat's most significant team-wide advantage is their speed and quickness, but their running game can only get going if they can adequately defend and rebound.
Still, when all is said and one, Miami is a one-man band. Fortunately, the maestro is sufficiently talented and motivated to make beautiful music for the Heat.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and he may respond in a future column.