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Pacers, Bulls and Bucks facing tough first round matchups

The NBA Central division sent three teams to the playoffs this season. The No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers, the No. 5 seed the Chicago Bulls and the No. 8 seed the Milwaukee Bucks. The Central division was one of the most competitive this season in the Eastern Conference and all three teams will give their opponents a tough matchup in the first round of the playoffs.

Indiana was in second place in the conference for most of the second half of the season but faltered down the stretch, lost their last three straight and five of their last ten to drop into third place. The Pacers will play the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Atlanta won the first two games head to head with Indiana this season, while Indiana took the most recent two.

Indiana should dominate inside with Roy Hibbert and David West against the Hawks’ Ivan Johnson and Al Horford. The Hawks will miss big man Zaza Pachulia, as they will have a tough time countering the strength inside of Indiana. The Pacers also have one of the toughest man-to-man defenses in the league.

Paul George should eat up the Hawks perimeter defense, while Atlanta’s Josh Smith will give the Pacers defense headaches the entire series. This series should go easily to Indiana with games in the 70s and 80s favoring their tough defense. The Pacers will win it in six.

The Chicago Bulls face the Brooklyn Nets in their first round playoff matchup. Chicago was 3-1 this season head to head against Brooklyn but all four games were close. One of the games was decided by 1 point, one by two points and a third by four points. Chicago was able to play their pace in all four games with the scoring staying below 100 points. The physical play of the Bulls down low as well as in the backcourt helped them control the series this season against the Nets.

The key to this series will be the health of Joe Johnson the Nets guard. If he stays healthy, he and Deron Williams could give the Bulls defense fits in the backcourt. The Bulls have had numerous injuries all season but big man Joakim Noah seems to be fit ago and will cause problems down low for Brook Lopez of the Nets.

Of course, Derrick Rose’s shadow will be over this series. Will he play or won’t he is the biggest question of the postseason thus far. If he plays, the Bulls will be that much tougher to beat. However, without Rose the Bulls are still a tough team for the Nets. Chicago should win with or without Rose against Brooklyn. The Bulls will take this series in seven games.

The Milwaukee Bucks will take on the conference’s top seed the Miami Heat in the first round. Miami dominated the head-to-head series with Milwaukee this season 3-1. However, the Bucks have given the Heat fits over the past two seasons playing them tough each game, but faltering down the stretch.

Larry Sanders will be the key for the Buck in this series. If he can play well at both ends in the paint, he could offset Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Milwaukee will lose this series in five games.

Two of the three Central division teams that reached the postseason should move on to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

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