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JEFF BZDELIK'S NBA PLAYOFF ANALYSIS PRO BASKETBALL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Jeff Bzdelik, assistant coach and advance scout for the Washington Bullets, offers this analysis of the first round of the NBA playoffs:

.. .. .. .. .. .. EASTERN CONFERENCE .. .. .New York (60-22) vs. Indiana (41-41) Guards: John Starks has a toughness that will help neutralize the Pacers' Reggie Miller. Doc Rivers and Vern Fleming are a wash at the point, both smart guards with playoff experience. Even.

Center: Patrick Ewing vs. Rik Smits is a huge advantage for New York. Ewing is an intimidating low-post player while Smits has a good shooting touch, but a soft game.

Forwards: ,8.5 The Knicks' combination of Charles Oakley and Charles Smith has a slight edge over Detlef Schrempf and Dale Davis, although Schrempf is the best of the four.

Bench: New York has a significant edge here with Anthony Mason, Tony Campbell and Herb Williams available to fill in up front, and Rolando Blackman and Greg Anthony as backcourt reserves. Indiana's main subs -- Pooh Richardson, LaSalle Thompson and Ken Williams -- aren't the same caliber.

Overview: New York's stifling defense and rebounding will negate Indiana's explosive offense. Having Pat Riley is another big plus.

$ Pick: New York, 3-0.

.. .. .Chicago (57-25) vs. Atlanta (43-39) Guards: All you have to say is Michael Jordan, who can completely dominate a game. The playmakers, B. J. Armstrong and Mookie Blaylock, offset each other.

Center: The Hawks have a big edge here in Kevin Willis, with Bill Cartwright fading.

Forwards: The Bulls' combination of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant is stronger than Dominique Wilkins and Jon Koncak, although Wilkins possesses the same game-breaking qualities as Jordan.

Bench: Chicago has valuable reserves in John Paxson, Will Perdue, Scott Williams and Stacey King. Atlanta primarily uses Duane Ferrell, Snoop Graham and Adam Keefe, but the Bulls have a decisive edge.

Overview: Jordan has carried such a burden this season, he will need other players to share the load. The Hawks' defense has been soft all year.

# Pick: Chicago, 3-1.

.. .. . Cleveland (54-28) vs. New Jersey (43-39) Guards: A slight edge to the Nets' Drazen Petrovic and Rumeal Robinson over Mark Price and Craig Ehlo. Price has trouble defending guys off the dribble, but is a big-game player offensively.

Center: Brad Daugherty has become one of the league's top centers, scoring, rebounding and he can beat his man down the floor. Sam Bowie is on the soft side. Big edge to Cleveland.

Forwards: If Larry Nance (finger) is out for the Cavaliers, the edge goes to the Nets' combination of Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris. Coleman can be as good as he wants to be.

Bench: Cleveland has solid players in Gerald Wilkins and Terrell Brandon, but loses its most valuable player if Hot Rod Williams starts in place of Nance. New Jersey lost its key reserve in Chris Dudley (knee).

Overview: Playoff experience and home court swing this series toward the Cavs.

% Pick: Cleveland, 3-1.

.. .. .Boston (48-34) vs. Charlotte (44-38) Guards: Give a slight edge to the Celtics' Sherman Douglas and Reggie Lewis over Muggsy Bogues and Kendall Gill. Lewis responds to big game pressure. Gill has spent the year seeking a trade. Douglas and Bogues are excellent playmakers, with Bogues better in transition and Douglas in the halfcourt.

Center: Alonzo Mourning's youth should overcome Robert Parish's experience in a five-game series.

Forwards: It's a toss-up between Kevin Gamble and Alaa Abdelnaby against the Hornets' Larry Johnson and Johnny Newman. Johnson is easily the best of the four, but Gamble is underrated offensively.

Bench: The key factor here is Kevin McHale. If McHale can play 15 to 20 productive minutes a game it changes the whole equation. If not, Charlotte has more depth with Kenny Gattison, an explosive scorer in Dell Curry, and a good defensive guard in David Wingate.

Overview: Again, the Celtics' hopes hinge on a healthy McHale.

% Pick: Charlotte, 3-2.

.. .. . .. .. .. .. .. WESTERN CONFERENCE

.. .. .Phoenix (62-20) vs. L.A. Lakers (39-43) Guards: If Kevin Johnson (sprained knee) is lost to the Suns, it changes things significantly. Frank Johnson or Danny Ainge probably will start in his place, teaming with Dan Majerle. But they'll still likely have the edge on Sedale Threatt and Byron Scott.

Center: Vlade Divac has a more complete game than the Suns' Mark West, a defensive specialist. Edge Lakers.

2 Forwards: A decisive edge to the Suns with Charles Barkley and Cedric Ceballos or Richard Dumas over A. C. Green and Elden Campbell. Barkley draws so many double-teams, it opens the floor for everyone else.

Bench: Huge edge to the Suns with Negele Knight, Tom Chambers and Ainge or Dumas.

Overview: The Suns simply believe they can outscore anyone and play passive defense. If Johnson returns soon, it gives them an even bigger edge.

# Pick: Phoenix, 3-1.

.. .. . Houston (55-27) vs. L.A. Clippers (41-41) Guards: Give the Clippers a slight edge because of Mark Jackson's leadership ability. Ron Harper is also a dangerous scorer. The Rockets will miss the explosiveness of Vernon Maxwell (wrist) at shooting guard.

Center: A total mismatch in favor of Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon, who has had an MVP-type season. Stanley Roberts is foul-prone.

Forwards: The Rockets may have the most talented front line in )) the NBA with Otis Thorpe and Robert Horry flanking Olajuwon. Horry, a solid rebounder and consistent scorer, was one of the most underrated rookies. The Clippers' Danny Manning is on the soft side and Ken Norman is unpredictable.

Bench: A slight edge to L.A. with Loy Vaught, John Williams and Elmore Spencer providing beef and rebounding.

Overview: The Rockets are too strong and too smart for the Clippers.

# Pick: Houston, 3-1.

.. .. .. .. .. Seattle (55-27) vs. Utah (47-35) Guards: A stand-off. John Stockton is such a great point guard, **

makes all the Jazz better. Jeff Malone has had an off year shooting. Ricky Pierce usually rises to the occasion for the Sonics and Gary Payton seems to have his game under control.

Center: Sam Perkins gives Seattle much more offense and versatility than Mike Brown or Mark Eaton.

Forwards: Slight edge to the Sonics' Shawn Kemp and Derrick McKey. Kemp has the size and strength to keep Karl Malone from running wild.

Bench: Big edge to Seattle since Eddie Johnson, Michael Cage, Dana Barros and Nate McMillan were one-time starters.

Overview: The Jazz started to head south this year and coach Jerry Sloan has been under fire.

# Pick: Seattle, 3-2.

.. .. . Portland (51-31) vs. San Antonio (49-33) Guards: The edge goes to the Blazers if Clyde Drexler hamstring) can play at a high level. He's a bona fide superstar. Terry Porter has a big edge at the point over Avery Johnson because of his experience.

Center: Huge edge to the Spurs in David Robinson over Kevin Duckworth or Mark Bryant. Robinson is a dominant force.

Forwards: Buck Williams and Jerome Kersey are an even match with the Spurs' Antoine Carr and J. R. Reid, but have a big edge in playoff experience.

Bench: A huge edge to Portland with Cliff Robinson, the best sixth man in the league, and a clever playmaker in Rod Strickland.

Overview: The Spurs' offense is very predictable. Robinson will have to carry the team on his back. But if Drexler is missing, it becomes a tough series.

$ Pick: Portland, 3-1.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. FINAL PREDICTION New York over Phoenix, 4-3. The Knicks have the two main ingredients -- defense and rebounding -- that you need to win an extended series after teams begin to run out of options.

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