A look at the matchups in the first round of the NBA playoffs:
No. 1 Chicago (69-13) vs. No. 8 Washington (44-38)
Key players: Chicago - Michael Jordan (29.6 pts, 5.9 reb, 4.3 ast), Scottie Pippen (20.2 pts, 6.5 reb, 5.7 ast), Dennis Rodman (16.1 reb). Washington - Chris Webber (20.1 pts, 10.3 reb, 4.3 ast), Juwan Howard (19.1 pts, 8.0 reb), Rod Strickland (17.2 pts, 8.9 ast)
Season series: Bulls won 2-1, but their two victories were by one and four points. Washington won by eight points in the final game April 3.
Bulls edge: Most important, they have the best player in the league in Michael Jordan. Their playoff experience and mental toughness are the best in the league, they lost at home only twice all year and they’ll have Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc back for the postseason.
Bullets edge: Conventional wisdom says you need a speedy point guard and a huge center to have any chance to beat the Bulls, and the Bullets have both.
Storyline: First chance to see if the Bulls are as vulnerable as people have been saying lately.
No. 2 Miami (61-21) vs. No. 7 Orlando (45-37)
Key players: Miami - Tim Hardaway (20.3 pts, 8.6 ast), Alonzo Mourning (19.8 pts, 9.9 reb), Jamal Mashburn (11.9 pts). Orlando - Penny Hardaway (20.5 pts, 5.6 ast), Rony Seikaly (17.3 pts, 9.5 reb), Horace Grant (12.6 pts, 9.5 reb).
Season series: Tied 2-2. None of the games was decided by less than 12 points, the Heat winning by 14 and 20 and the Magic winning by 12 twice.
Heat edge: They have a group of overachieving players who have bought into coach Pat Riley’s philosophy. Their opponents, on the other hand, held a team meeting to overthrow coach Brian Hill. The Heat had the best road record in the NBA.
Magic edge: They have played well since Richie Adubato replaced Hill and let the players have more offensive freedom. With Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson, Hardaway and Gerald Wilkins, the Magic are one of the few teams that may be able to outshoot Miami from 3-point range.
Storyline: Battle of the Floridians and the Magic’s first taste of a post-Shaq postseason.
No. 3 New York (57-25) vs. No. 6 Charlotte (54-28)
Key players: New York - Patrick Ewing (22.4 pts, 10.7 reb), Larry Johnson (12.8 pts, 5.2 reb), John Starks (13.8 pts). Charlotte - Glen Rice (26.8 pts), Anthony Mason (16.2 pts, 11.4 reb, 5.7 ast), Dell Curry (14.8 pts).
Season series: Charlotte won 3-1, the only loss coming in the first game of the season for both teams.
Knicks edge: Patrick Ewing had a strong season and gives New York an advantage in the middle, where he’ll be guarded alternately by Mason, Vlade Divac and Matt Geiger. John Starks has thrived in his sixth-man role.
Hornets edge: Rice will be asked to shoulder much of the scoring burden because the Knicks have no one who can adequately guard him. Mason outplayed Johnson in three of the four games between the teams. Charlotte plays with a lot of confidence against New York.
Storyline: Mason and Johnson against their former teams.
No. 4 Atlanta (56-26) vs. No. 5 Detroit (54-28)
Key players: Atlanta - Mookie Blaylock (17.5 pts, 5.9 ass, 2.7 stl), Steve Smith (20.1 pts), Dikembe Mutombo 10.3 pts, 11.6 reb), Christian Laettner (18.1 pts, 8.8 reb). Detroit - Grant Hill (21.4 pts, 9.0 reb, 7.3 ass), Joe Dumars (14.7 pts), Otis Thorpe (13.1 pts, 7.9 reb).
Season series: Pistons won 3-1. Two of Detroit’s victories came in the first five weeks of the season when they were playing as well as anyone in the league. Atlanta’s victory came April 4.
Hawks edge: Aside from having perhaps the strongest starting five in the league, Atlanta has a center in Dikembe Mutombo who should dominate against the Pistons’ Don Reid, Theo Ratliff and Terry Mills.
Pistons edge: Grant Hill has had some of his best games against Atlanta. Detroit knows that the Hawks are a bad road team.
Storyline: Atlanta finished strong, Detroit finished weak.
No. 1 Utah (64-18) vs. No. 8 L.A. Clippers (36-46)
Key players: Utah - Karl Malone (27.4 pts, 9.9 reb, 4.5 ast), John Stockton (144 pts, 10.5 ast), Jeff Hornacek 14.5 pts). Los Angeles - Loy Vaught (14.9 pts, 10.0 reb), Rodney Rogers (13.2 pts, 5.1 reb), Darrick Martin (10.9 pts, 4.1 ast).
Season series: Utah won 3-1, dominating in its three victories. Stockton had three excellent games, but allowed Martin to score 38 in the Clippers’ victory.
Jazz edge: The best shooting team in the league, they also had the best record over the second half of the season. Their bench is deep, they run their plays to precision and they don’t take bad shots. Utah lost only three times at home.
Clippers edge: Los Angeles is one of the few teams that uses as many bench players as Utah does, so the Clippers will have enough fresh legs to keep up with the Jazz. Hard to find any other advantage.
Storyline: The Clippers are the worst of the playoff teams, the Jazz are the hottest.
No. 2 Seattle (57-25) vs. No. 7 Phoenix (40-42)
Key players: Seattle - Gary Payton (21.8 pts, 7.1 ast), Shawn Kemp (18.7 pts, 10.0 reb), Detlef Schrempf (16.8 pts, 6.5 reb). Phoenix - Kevin Johnson (20.1 pts, 9.3 ast), Jason Kidd (10.9 pts, 9.0 ast), Cedric Ceballos (14.6 pts, 6.6 reb).
Season series: Tied, 2-2. Phoenix won the final two games in late March when it was starting to get accustomed to using Kidd and Johnson on the floor at the same time.
Sonics edge: Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf give Seattle a huge advantage at the forward positions, but Kemp will have to break out of his late-season funk and Schrempf must be fully recovered from a late-season injury. In Payton, the Sonics have one of the few guards able to shut down Johnson or Kidd.
Suns edge: Coach Danny Ainge has been using a four-guard alignment of Kidd, Johnson, Wesley Person and Rex Chapman that has proved difficult to defend. Phoenix’s lack of a great center isn’t a problem in this series because Seattle has similar trouble.
Storyline: The Sonics have been teetering all season, the Suns have made a great comeback from a 0-13 start.
No. 3 Houston (57-25) vs. No. 6 Minnesota (40-42)
Key players: Houston - Hakeem Olajuwon (23.2 pts, 9.2 reb), Charles Barkley (19.2 pts, 13.5 reb), Clyde Drexler (18.0 pts, 6.0 reb, 5.7 ast). Minnesota - Tom Gugliotta (20.6 pts, 8.7 reb), Kevin Garnett (17.0 pts, 8.0 reb), Stephon Marbury (15.8 pts, 7.8 ast).
Season series: Rockets won 4-0, and only one of the games was close.
Rockets edge: The three superstars are healthy, and Barkley and Drexler played themselves into shape over the last few weeks. Aside from Matt Maloney, all of the Rockets have plenty of postseason experience. Bench is deeper and more experienced than it was in the past with Eddie Johnson, Kevin Willis and Sedale Threatt.
Timberwolves edge: Minnesota has the benefit of younger legs, and Stephon Marbury has a huge edge over Maloney at the point. The Wolves also can take solace in the fact that the Rockets never seem to make things easy on themselves in the postseason.
Storyline: The Rockets look to have a clear path to the conference finals, the Timberwolves may be glad just to be here.
No. 4 L.A. Lakers (56-26) vs. No. 5 Portland (49-33)
Key players: Los Angeles - Shaquille O’Neal (26.2 pts, 12.5 reb), Nick Van Exel (15.3 pts, 8.5 ast), Eddie Jones (17.2 pts). Portland - Kenny Anderson (17.5 pts, 7.1 ast), Isaiah Rider (16.1 pts), Arvydas Sabonis (13.4 pts, 7.9 rebs).
Season series: Portland won, 3-1. All three victories were by four points, and the loss was in overtime by one point.
Lakers edge: O’Neal can carry a team in the playoffs, and he scored 34, 33, 34 and 24 in the four regular-season games. Jones has done a good job defending Rider. Elden Campbell, Sean Rooks, Travis Knight and Robert Horry should help the Lakers to a rebounding advantage.
Blazers edge: They match up adequately at every position. Their bench has a nice mixture of veterans and youngsters that also matches up nicely with the Lakers.
Storyline: The hack-a-Shaq defense should come back into vogue in what could be the best first-round series of them all.
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