First-round preview

May 08, 1999|By Jerry Bembry

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Miami (33-17) vs. No. 8 New York (27-23)

Season series: Tied, 2-2 (Miami, 83-79, on Feb. 7; Miami, 85-84, on March 2; New York, 82-80, on April 25; New York, 101-88, on May 5).

Last playoff appearance: Teams met in the first round last year, when seventh-seeded New York won, 3-2. The Knicks then lost to Indiana in the conference semifinals, 4-1.

Key players: Miami -- Alonzo Mourning (20.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.9 bpg), Tim Hardaway (17.4 ppg, 7.3 apg), Jamal Mashburn (14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg). New York -- Latrell Sprewell (16.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Larry Johnson (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Allan Houston (16.3 ppg), Patrick Ewing (17.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg).

Key matchups: Hardaway vs. backcourt tandem of Charlie Ward and Chris Childs. Hardaway seems to thrive when he plays New York. Mourning vs. Ewing. Despite being slowed by injuries, Ewing averaged 27.5 points and 16.5 rebounds in his two games against Miami this season.

What Miami has to do to win: Keep Mourning from losing his cool, as his ejection in Game 4 last year cost Miami the series against New York.

What New York has to do to win: Play with the same urgency the team had over the final two weeks of the season. And get contributions from Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas in what will be an extremely physical series.

Intangibles: Self control will be the biggest. The team that demonstrates the most will win the series between two bitter rivals who were separated by just seven points in the three games when all the key players were in uniform.

Prediction: Miami in five.

No. 2 Indiana (33-17) vs. No. 7 Milwaukee (28-22)

Season series: Indiana, 3-0 (82-80 on Feb. 20; 109-104 on March 12; 108-100 on April 21).

Last playoff appearance: Indiana reached last year's conference finals, where it lost to Chicago in seven games; Milwaukee is making its first appearance since 1991, when the Bucks were swept in three games by Philadelphia.

Key players: Indiana -- Reggie Miller (18.4 ppg), Rik Smits (14.9 ppg), Jalen Rose (11.1 ppg), Mark Jackson (7.6 ppg, 7.9 apg). Milwaukee -- Glenn Robinson (18.4 ppg), Ray Allen (17.1 ppg), Sam Cassell (13.8 ppg).

Key matchups: Michael Curry, Milwaukee's best defender, will likely get the assignment on Miller. The Indiana shooting guard has shown, over the past two weeks, a willingness to become more offensive-minded.

What Indiana has to do to win: Take advantage of its veteran leadership.

What Milwaukee has to do to win: Hope Cassell, who played in just four games this season, can provide an offensive spark.

Intangibles: The Pacers are too deep, and have too much playoff experience.

Prediction: Indiana in three.

No. 3 Orlando (33-17) vs. No. 6 Philadelphia (28-22)

Season series: Philadelphia, 2-1 (Philadelphia, 95-75, on Feb. 6; Orlando, 74-73, on March 15; Philadelphia, 103-86, on April 25).

Last playoff appearance: Orlando last appeared in 1997, losing to Miami in the first round, 3-2; Philadelphia last appeared in 1991, sweeping Milwaukee in the first round before losing to Chicago in the next round in five games.

Key players: Orlando -- Penny Hardaway (15.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.3 apg), Nick Anderson (14.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Darrell Armstrong (13.8 ppg, 6.7 apg). Philadelphia -- Allen Iverson (26.8 ppg), Theo Ratliff (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.0 bpg), Matt Geiger (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

Key matchups: Hardaway will start the game at shooting guard, but look for the Magic to have Armstrong shadow Iverson at the start of the game. Should Armstrong get in foul trouble, it will be hard for the Magic to match up with Iverson's quickness. On the other hand, Hardaway should be able to post up against the smaller Philadelphia backcourt.

What Orlando has to do to win: The Magic must get a big showing from its frontcourt, particularly the high-energy Bo Outlaw, who was moved to the bench when Armstrong entered the starting lineup.

What Philadelphia has to do to win: Get a big scoring series from Iverson, whose quickness gives Orlando problems.

Intangibles: Philadelphia would have swept the season series if not for a fluke turnover in the final seconds of the March 15 Orlando win. The Sixers match up well with the Magic, and look for Ratliff, a shot-blocking forward, to have a huge impact.

Prediction: Philadelphia in four.

No. 4 Atlanta (31-19) vs. No. 5 Detroit (29-21)

Season series: Detroit, 2-1 (Atlanta, 85-72, on March 14; Detroit, 93-77, on March 30; Detroit, 89-82, on April 7).

Last playoff appearance: Atlanta lost in the opening round last year to Charlotte, 3-1; Detroit last appeared in 1997, losing in the opening round to Atlanta, 3-2.

Key players: Atlanta -- Dikembe Mutombo (10.8 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.94 bpg), Steve Smith (18.7 ppg), Mookie Blaylock (13.3 ppg, 5.8 apg). Detroit -- Grant Hill (21.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.0 apg), Jerry Stackhouse (14.5 ppg), Bison Dele (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

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