Bulls vs. Sixers to open playoffs Saturday

The reigning MVP and team with the best record in the NBA get the honor of opening the NBA playoffs when Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls host the Philadelphia 76ers.

That best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series starts Saturday at 1 p.m. (et).

The league announced its playoff schedule Thursday night, after the seedings and matchups were set on the final night of the abbreviated 66-game regular season.

Rose, who has missed multiple games recently due to a groin injury, helped the Bulls to the NBA's best overall record for a second straight year, this time with a 50-16 mark.

The Bulls, who lost to the Heat in the East finals in 2011, will face a Sixers team that won four of its final five games for the No. 8 seed. The Sixers have lost their last five playoff series and haven't advanced past the first round since 2003.

Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade came up just short in their first season together by losing to Dallas in six games in the NBA Finals. Again with high expectations, the Heat will have a second chance as the No. 2 seed when they take on Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the rest of the New York Knicks in the first round, beginning Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (et).

The Heat swept the Knicks in all three meetings this season.

The Orlando Magic, seeded sixth in the East, will not have All-Star center Dwight Howard when they begin their first-round series against No. 3 seed Indiana on Saturday at 7 p.m. (et). Howard had season-ending surgery last week on the herniated disc in his back and is expected to recover in four months.

The Pacers, who finished behind the Bulls in the Central Division, haven't moved past the first round of the playoffs since 2005. They've met the Magic twice in the postseason, the last time in 1995 with the Magic winning in seven games in the East finals.

In the East's 4-5 matchup, the Atlanta Hawks earned home-court advantage over the Boston Celtics. That best-of-seven series starts Sunday at 7 p.m. (et).

The Hawks are seeded fifth, but got home-court because they finished with one more win than the Atlantic Division champions.

It was during their last playoff meeting, in the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, when the Celtics won four times at home, winning Game 7 by 34 points.

"It's real big," said Hawks forward Josh Smith of having home-court advantage. "We experienced that when we first made the playoffs five years ago and we had to play against a rowdy crowd in Boston. Having home-court advantage is definitely key."

The Spurs, seeded No. 1 in the West, will take on the Utah Jazz in the first round starting Sunday at 1 p.m. (et). San Antonio surged to its second straight division title, winning the Southwest by a dominating margin over the Memphis Grizzlies. It's the 15th straight year in the playoffs for the Spurs under Gregg Popovich. They were bounced by eighth-seeded Memphis in round one last year.

Utah, which didn't clinch a playoff spot until Tuesday night, has a big task ahead. The Jazz had lost six in a row to the Spurs until an April 9 victory. They also lost the last time meeting San Antonio in the playoffs, in five games in the Western Conference finals in 2007.

The Dallas Mavericks will start defense of their NBA championship with a rematch from 2011 against the second-seeded Thunder. The opener of that series will be Saturday at 9:30 p.m. (et).

Oklahoma City, winners of the Northwest Division, lost to Dallas in five games last year in the Western Conference finals.

"Well they're a great young team, we're a veteran team," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We know the kind of capabilities they have as a team and we know what we have to do to play at our level. It's a great matchup. There's geographic interest. The teams are close together.

"We had a real intense series with them last year. It's a tough matchup, but we're looking forward to it."

Denver gained the sixth seed on the final night of the regular season and will face the Pacific Division-champion Los Angeles Lakers starting Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (et). The Nuggets have never won a playoff series against the Lakers in five tries.

Kobe Bryant, who was sidelined for several games this month due to a bruised left shin, is trying to lead the Lakers to a third championship in four years. They were swept in the conference semifinals in 2011 by Dallas.

The Clippers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and will take on the Grizzlies in the first round, starting Sunday at 9:30 p.m. (et) in Memphis. The Grizzlies, who got their first-ever playoff series win last year, earned the No. 4 seed on the final day and have home-court advantage for the first time.