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Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Opening Tip: Best first-round matchup?

By Jared Zwerling

Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: Which team is the best matchup for the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs: the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks or Boston Celtics?

After Tuesday morning's shootaround at the Knicks' training facility, Mike Woodson pointed to those three teams being on his radar.

"Our scouts will come in to New York after our game in Cleveland and we'll start preparing for the playoffs based on possibility of the three teams that we can play," he said. "I think Atlanta, Boston and Chicago. [The scouts] do all the prep work in terms of going out scouting and getting their information back, and then it's our job as the coaching staff to come up with the game plan and put it together."

With that said, here's a look at the good and bad of each playoff matchup:

BULLS

Five advantages:

1. Potentially no Derrick Rose.

2. A potentially unhealthy Joakim Noah, the team's defensive anchor, who missed eight recent games with right plantar fasciitis and just suffered a setback with the injury.

3. A banged-up Richard Hamilton, their veteran midrange shooter, who could miss the rest of the season with a back injury.

4. They're last in the NBA in terms of scoring with just 92.7 points per game (whereas the Knicks are averaging a third-best 104.6 points per game during their 12-game winning streak).

5. The absence of a go-to clutch scorer, especially Carlos Boozer who's known to disappear in the playoffs (not Carmelo Anthony).

Five disadvantages:

1. The potential return of Rose.

2. If Noah plays, the team's bigger and skilled frontline (the Knicks will be missing bigs).

3. Their defensive pedigree and preparation from coach Tom Thibodeau.

4. Their specific coverage on 3-point shooting (the Knicks' overall offensive poison).

5. The United Center's legendary playoff atmosphere.

HAWKS

Five advantages:

1. Woodson coached the team from 2004-10 and knows something about their talent and tendencies.

2. Anthony's love affair with the Philips Arena and his mismatch against Josh Smith (case in point: April 3 scoring 40 points).

3. No standout sixth man Louis Williams (right ACL tear).

4. Their absence of a go-to clutch scorer.

5. Their poor road record (18-21).

Five disadvantages:

1. Some of the players know Woodson's schemes.

2. Their big and skilled frontcourt duo featuring Smith and Al Horford.

3. Their speed at point guard featuring Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and Shelvin Mack (whereas the Knicks are older).

4. Their long-range shooting ability featuring Kyle Korver and John Jenkins.

5. They're an easier opponent that might present a letdown at times (whereas the Bulls and Celtics are more competitive).

CELTICS

Five advantages:

1. No Rajon Rondo (right ACL tear).

2. A potentially unhealthy Kevin Garnett, the team's defensive anchor, who's been recently dealing with left ankle inflammation.

3. Their poor road record (13-25).

4. Their lack of backcourt scoring (whereas the Knicks have plenty of that).

5. Several new and younger pieces, added later in the season, who are still trying to jell together.

Five disadvantages:

1. A potentially healthy Garnett.

2. Paul Pierce's clutch playmaking (the best match to Melo in any of these playoff matchups).

3. Coach Doc Rivers' defensive pedigree and the intense physicality the Celtics would bring to the longtime rivalry series.

4. They're a veteran team that never quits and always seems to play better when they're down in games.

5. The TD Garden's challenging playoff atmosphere.

There's an additional factor that makes one of these three teams the better first-round matchup: playoff inexperience. That would be of the Hawks. The Knicks, on the other hand, only feature three players who haven't been to the postseason (Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland and James White).

Which team do you want to see the Knicks face in the first round? Leave us your comments below.

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