No. 1 Chicago (69-13) vs. No. 8 Washington (44-38)

Season series: Chicago, 2-1 (Chicago, 108-107, on Jan. 14; Chicago, 103-99, on Feb. 21; Washington, 110-102, on April 3).


Last playoff appearance: In 1996, the Bulls won the NBA title, beating Seattle in six games. The Bullets last appeared in the playoffs in 1988, when they lost in the first round to the Detroit Pistons, 3-2.

Key players: Chicago -- Michael Jordan (29.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.3 apg), Scottie Pippen (20.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.7 apg), Dennis Rodman (16.1 rpg). Washington -- Chris Webber (20.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.3 apg), Juwan Howard (19.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Rod Strickland (17.2 ppg, 8.9 apg)


Key matchups: Jordan vs. Calbert Cheaney, who played a physical game in the Washington win. Pippen against Howard is a battle of speed and size. Also, Webber can't allow Rodman to get under his skin.

What Chicago has to do to win: Remain healthy. If Rodman and reserve Toni Kukoc can perform up to their normal abilities, the Bulls have too much firepower with Jordan and Pippen to be seriously challenged.

What Washington has to do to win: First, get a big contribution from Strickland, because the Bulls are vulnerable to quick point guards; also, establish a low-post game with 7-7 center Gheorghe Muresan.

Intangibles: The Bulls were in a slump at season's end, losing three games in the final weeks. And still this "vulnerable" team won 69 games. The Bullets played the Bulls close in three games, and might even steal a game. But the Bulls have Jordan.

Prediction: Chicago in four.

No. 2 Miami (61-21) vs. No. 7 Orlando (45-37)

Season series: Tied at 2-2 (Miami, 96-76, on Dec. 26; Orlando, 99-87, on Jan. 19; Orlando, 98-86, on Feb. 26; Miami, 102-88, on April 19).

Last playoff appearance: Last year, Miami was swept by Chicago, 3-0, in the first round. Orlando was swept by Chicago in the conference finals.


Key players: Miami -- Tim Hardaway (20.3 ppg, 8.6 apg), Alonzo Mourning (19.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg), Jamal Mashburn (11.9 ppg). Orlando -- Penny Hardaway (20.5 ppg, 5.6 apg), Rony Seikaly (17.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg), Horace Grant (12.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg).

Key matchups: Hardaway vs. Hardaway, with Miami's Tim Hardaway using his quickness against the size of Penny Hardaway; also, the center matchup between Seikaly, a former member of the Heat, and Mourning.

What Miami has to do to win: Get the ball inside to Mourning; also, hope Tim Hardaway can continue his high level of play.

What Orlando has to do to win: Pray for good health. Seikaly is nursing two sore ankles, and Grant has a sore back.

Intangibles: Orlando has been swept in every playoff series in which it lost the first game, and has won every playoff series in which it has won the first game. Miami had the best road record in the NBA (32-9) and is directed by the league's best coach, Pat Riley.

Prediction: Miami in four.


No. 3 New York (57-25) vs. No. 6 Charlotte (54-28)

Season series: Charlotte, 3-1 (New York, 113-86, on Nov. 3; Charlotte, 93-86, on Nov. 20; Charlotte, 113-104, on Jan. 24; Charlotte, 99-93, on Feb. 2).

Last playoff appearance: New York was eliminated last season in the conference semifinals by Chicago, 4-1. Charlotte made its last appearance in 1995, losing to Chicago in the first round, 3-1.

Key players: New York -- Patrick Ewing (22.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Larry Johnson (12.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), John Starks (13.8 ppg). Charlotte -- Glen Rice (26.8 ppg), Anthony Mason (16.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 5.7 apg), Dell Curry (14.8 ppg).

Key matchups: The obvious one is between Johnson and Mason, the two players who were traded for each other over the summer.

What New York has to do to win: Hope for a return on its three investments from last summer (Johnson, Chris Childs and Allan Houston) that proved to be disappointments during the regular season.


What Charlotte has to do to win: Hope for good health. Point guard Muggsy Bogues suffered a strained right hamstring during practice on Tuesday, Curry has a strained calf and backup center Matt Geiger has been bothered by back spasms.

Intangibles: The Knicks are one of the few teams capable of extending the Bulls, and yet they might not get past the first round to get the chance.

Prediction: New York in five.

No. 4 Atlanta (56-26) vs. No. 5 Detroit (54-28)

Season series: Detroit, 3-1 (Detroit, 90-78, on Nov. 2; Detroit, 100-90, on Dec. 4; Detroit, 82-75, on March 2; Atlanta, 103-89, on April 4).

Last playoff appearance: Last season, Atlanta lost to Orlando, 4-1, in the conference semifinals. Last season, Detroit was swept, 3-0, by Orlando in the first round.


Key players: Atlanta -- Mookie Blaylock (17.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, 2.7 spg), Steve Smith (20.1 ppg), Dikembe Mutombo (10.3 ppg, 11.6 rpg), Christian Laettner (18.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg). Detroit -- Grant Hill (21.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 7.3 apg), Joe Dumars (14.7 ppg), Otis Thorpe (13.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg).

Key matchups: Smith will attempt to use his size advantage over Dumars at shooting guard. At small forward, the Hawks will use Tyrone Corbin on Hill.

What Atlanta has to do to win: Play a collapsing defense, because Hill will attempt to get to the basket at every opportunity.

What Detroit has to do to win: Hope the team's three-point shooting, particularly that of center Terry Mills, is on. Any attempt at an inside game will likely be thwarted by Mutombo.

Intangibles: For Detroit, Hill was a playoff no-show last year in a poor series against Orlando. If he is to be considered one of the top players in the game, he has to prove himself in the playoff.

Prediction: Atlanta in four.


Pub Date: 4/24/97