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Breaking down the East bracket

The series are set. Now what? Our panel takes a look at each of the first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference.

1. Heat or Bucks: Who wins, and in how many games?

Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: Heat in 5. Miami's march begins with what should be the path of least resistance -- a Milwaukee team poised to enter yet another offseason swathed in questions of franchise direction. One slowdown slugfest highlighted by a Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings outburst will be good for one Bucks win, but that's it.

James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Heat in 4. Theoretically, the Bucks have the ability to get hot and steal a game or two from Miami. When Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are clicking at the same time on offense, they become dangerous. But with the way the Heat are playing, it's easy to imagine Milwaukee giving its best effort and still falling short.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Heat in 5. Giving Milwaukee a win in this series seems a bit generous, but the Bucks will find a way to steal one game when their dangerous 3-point shooters get hot. Milwaukee's lackluster defense will be no match for LeBron James and the defending champions for the rest of the series, though.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Heat in 5. LeBron James & Co. aren't perfect, but they're awfully close to it, especially when locked in defensively. The Bucks have given Miami problems in the recent past, but that was while coached by gritty guru Scott Skiles, who has since been fired. Milwaukee is athletic and quick enough to possibly steal one game.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Heat in 4. But only because three games isn't an option. This is the only series in either conference with a 0 percent upset chance.


2. Knicks or Celtics: Who wins, and in how many games?

Cavan: Knicks in 6. The pride of a brick-tough city galvanized by tragedy (to say nothing of the Celtics franchise itself) could punch this one to the brink. The Knicks survive thanks to two things: Carmelo Anthony and the kind of rotational depth necessary for any serious playoff push -- and for which Boston simply has no answer.

Herbert: Knicks in 6. New York's offense is too strong, even against a disciplined Celtics team. It's hard to win in Boston, but the Knicks should be able to steal one. It's time for Carmelo Anthony to carry over his usual April scoring tear into May.

Robb: Celtics in 6. Call me a homer if you want, but I like the way the Celtics match up with the Knicks. They have a variety of defenders to throw at Carmelo Anthony and have been the NBA's best team at defending the 3-point line since Avery Bradley's January return. Throw in some injury woes for the Knicks and I believe Boston pulls the upset.

Wallace: Knicks in 6. Both teams have been short-circuited by injuries this season and never reached their full potential. But Carmelo Anthony is playing like a mature man on a mission. He'll finally get his breakthrough against big brother Boston, just as James and Dwyane Wade eventually did.

Wade: Knicks in 6. It is always heated when these two cities face off in the playoffs in any sport, and just playing in Boston right now will be a moving experience. If ever emotion could carry a team through a series, these Celtics are that team. But New York's offense ultimately will be too much to handle.


3. Pacers or Hawks: Who wins, and in how many games?

Cavan: Pacers in 6. A season split means this one has a chance to be competitive, particularly if Josh Smith and Al Horford can put pressure on the Indy interior and Kyle Korver can catch fire from deep. But the Pacers' plodding, punishing pedigree is nothing if not tailor-made for the playoffs. The Hawks will steal a pair, but bank on a few runaway laughers for Indy.

Herbert: Pacers in 6. Indiana has been elite on defense all season, and Atlanta is going to have tons of problems figuring out ways to score. The Pacers are tough to play against and might not have peaked yet -- Paul George and Roy Hibbert haven't been on the top of their games offensively at the same time.

Robb: Pacers in 6. Indiana has struggled a bit down the stretch but can still clamp down defensively as well as any team in the league. The Hawks have an assortment of weapons on offense but lack the ability to score efficiently against an elite group like the Pacers.

Wallace: Pacers in 7. The Hawks are good enough, when engaged, to pull off the upset. But depending on Josh Smith and crew is akin to eating soup with a fork. This is the kind of series that will lull the Pacers into a much tougher challenge than they expect. Eventually, Atlanta will find a way to beat itself if Indiana doesn't first.

Wade: Pacers in 6. Indiana has been shaky of late, but Atlanta is decidedly average. If Hawks guard Lou Williams were playing, this could be closer, but the Pacers will grind it out without much difficulty.


4. Nets or Bulls: Who wins, and in how many games?

Cavan: ZZZZZZZ ... * snort * Wha! Oh, sorry! Nets in 6. Deron Williams has been his regular steamrolling self for months, and he should give the Bulls' patchwork backcourt some serious problems. Expect games in the high 80s, stretches of stagnant offense and a few wire-to-wire nail-biters. Come crunch time, however, the Nets' bevy of options will prove to be the difference.

Herbert: Bulls in 7. Like these teams' regular-season meetings, this should be tight. Chicago is the type of pesky club that makes things uncomfortable for Brooklyn. Even though the Bulls have been banged up, I trust them more to get stops when needed down the stretch.

Robb: Bulls in 7. Behind the improved play of Deron Williams, the Nets have started to show flashes of greatness that were expected, given the collection of talent they put together for this season. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Chicago has the horses, especially on the front line, to slow down the Nets. The Bulls will struggle to score at times, but their excellent defense will prove to be the difference.

Wallace: Nets in 6. If Derrick Rose walks through that door, I reserve the right to change my pick. Heck, if a healthy Joakim Noah shows up, I'll take the same liberty. But Deron Williams and the Nets have quietly gotten themselves together down the stretch and should finally put the Bulls out of their injury-plagued misery.

Wade: Nets in 6. Deron Williams is playing his best basketball since his Salt Lake days, and Chicago is a banged-up squad running on fumes. You can't underestimate the Bulls' pride or system, but the Nets have little to worry about.


5. Who will represent the East in the NBA Finals?

Cavan: The Knicks! Give Glen Grunwald dap for piecing together a roster custom-built to give Miami fits. But beyond matters of matchups and strategy, there's this: The Knicks are just crazy enough to expect to win. A team coalescing around palpable chemistry, a scoring machine desperate to summit and 40 years of pent-up angst -- the perfect recipe for some crisp new Garden rafter heraldry.

Herbert: The Heat. They're on another level talentwise, and their whole is now even greater than the sizable sum of its parts. This is a juggernaut on both ends. While New York had success against Miami in the regular season, it feels like a stretch to pick anyone but the Heat.

Robb: Miami Heat. They'll have a couple more hiccups than expected in the middle rounds after a historic regular season, but no Eastern Conference team has the talent to take four of seven from the defending champions. Miami's true test will take place during the NBA Finals with a potential rematch against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Wallace: The Heat. Barring an injury to James, Wade or Chris Bosh, Miami should get back to the Finals without being pushed to as many as six games in any series. The only intrigue in the East is whether Anthony can lead the Knicks on a sort of Cinderella run to the conference finals to face the Heat.

Wade: Milwaukee. The one-two punch of Monta Ellis and Brandon ... I can't even continue the joke. Miami. Of course, Miami.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Michael Wallace covers the Heat and the NBA for ESPN.com. Jim Cavan, James Herbert, Brian Robb and Jared Wade contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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