Sports Illustrated staff writer Marty Burns breaks down the best-of-five first-round series of the NBA playoffs.
No. 1 Heat (33-17) vs. No. 8 Knicks (27-23)
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
Matchup to watch: Heat C Alonzo Mourning vs. Knicks SF Larry Johnson. This marks Round III between these two longtime antagonists, who play different positions but somehow always seem to find each other under the boards.
Heat wins if: SF Jamal Mashburn sticks to Pat Riley's script on defense, G Terry Porter or SG Dan Majerle hit a few big shots, and 'Zo keeps his cool.
Knicks win if: Johnson and PF Kurt Thomas rebound, PG Charlie Ward doesn't throw too many passes to Spike Lee, and C Patrick Ewing decides not to take the last shot.
The X-factor: Knicks PF Marcus Camby. His quickness and shot-blocking could give Miami fits, but will playoff Heat turn him into Cotton Camby?
Prediction: Heat in five.
No. 2 Pacers (33-17) vs. No. 7 Bucks (28-22)
Season series: Pacers, 3-0.
Matchup to watch: Pacers SG Reggie Miller vs. Bucks SG Ray Allen . Two of Hollywood's favorite shooting guards square off to see who's really got game.
Pacers win if: C Rik Smits exploits Milwaukee's lack of a center, they get at least 35 rebounds per game and they get out on the Bucks' three-point shooters.
Bucks win if: They can keep Pacers PG Mark Jackson from posting up at will, and bench players SG Dell Curry, F Chris Gatling and SF Tim Thomas can offset the Pacers' vaunted reserve corps.
The X-factor: Bucks PG Sam Cassell. Back after sitting out most of the season with an injury, Cassell brings championship experience -- and a new look -- to Milwaukee.
Prediction: Pacers in four.
No. 3 Magic (33-17) vs. No. 6 Sixers (28-22)
Season series: Sixers, 2-1.
Matchup to watch: Magic SG Penny Hardaway vs. Sixers SG Allen Iverson. Although they won't guard each other, each is his team's go-to guy and each has a lot to prove.
Magic wins if: SG Nick Anderson can take some of the scoring load off Hardaway, and rookies SF Matt Harpring and C Michael Doleac can handle the playoff pressure.
Sixers win if: PG Eric Snow can contain Hardaway, they get at least 12 offensive rebounds per game, and Iverson doesn't become impatient with his shot selection.
The X-factor: Magic PG Darrell Armstrong. He'll need a few more cups of coffee and Hershey kisses to keep up with Iverson, but don't count him out.
Prediction: Magic in five.
No. 4 Hawks (31-19) vs. No. 5 Pistons (29-21)
Season series: Pistons, 2-1.
Matchup to watch: Hawks SG Steve Smith vs. Pistons SG Joe Dumars. Smith can score in a lot of ways, but Joe D is still one of the league's best defenders.
Hawks win if: SF Chris Crawford and SF Tyrone Corbin can play Detroit F Grant Hill straight up, limiting the need for double teams, and C Dikembe Mutombo can score around 10-15 points per game.
Pistons win if: PG Lindsey Hunter plays Atlanta PG Mookie Blaylock to a draw, they get about 20 fast-break points per game, and Hill steers clear of Mutombo's pointy elbows.
The X-factor: Pistons PF Christian Laettner. Still miffed about being passed over last year in favor of PF Alan Henderson in the free-agency sweepstakes. Laettner would love to stick it to his former team.
Prediction: Hawks in five.
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