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The NBA Playoffs: NBA East preview

MARCUS HENRY Special to the AmNews | 4/26/2012, 2:04 p.m.
The NBA Playoffs: NBA East preview

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The NBA Playoffs: NBA East preview

We've finally come to the only part of the show that matters for the Miami Heat: the playoffs. After last season's flameout against Dallas in the NBA Finals, the Heat are itching for a return trip.

It all starts with LeBRON JAMES. James averaged just two points per game in the fourth quarter during the final, leaving DWYANE WADE and CHRIS BOSH to do the heavy lifting. That can't happen again, especially since the Heat have little depth and weak bench.

Even if James wakes up late in the games, it won't be easy to get out of the East, especially if Chicago Bulls super point guard DERRICK ROSE is 100 percent healthy. The Heat dispatched the Bulls in five games in the Eastern Conference final last year, but this version of the Bulls, in addition to LUOL DENG, CARLOS BOOZER and JOAKIM NOAH, has a well-respected veteran wing player in RICHARD HAMILTON.

Hamilton's experience could be the difference for the top-seeded Bulls. The Celtics have played lights-out basketball lately. The "old man," KEVIN GARNETT, is averaging 17.2 points and 9 rebounds in April. PAUL PIERCE is still Paul Pierce, and RAY ALLEN is hitting 45 percent of his 3-point attempts.

However, do the Big Three (plus RAJON RONDO) have the energy to get through four playoff rounds? They could if youngsters BRANDON BASS and AVERY BRADLEY continue to give the Celtics solid minutes. Boston needs to have an easy first-round series against Atlanta. If Garnett, Pierce and Allen are forced to play six or seven games, their playoff ride will be short.

The Pacers have seemingly everything it takes to win: a strong center in ROY HIBBERT, a talented wing player (DANNY GRANGER) and a deep bench with LEANDRO BARBOSA, TYLER HANSBROUGH and GEORGE HILL. However, they lack the experience to make a serious run.

The Atlanta Hawks are always dangerous with JOE JOHNSON and JOSH SMITH, but they won't get out of the first round if AL HORFORD (torn pectoral) isn't ready to go. Horford said he will play tonight (Thursday) in Atlanta's season finale against Dallas.

With a myriad of injuries during this shortened season, the Knicks are the wild card of the bunch. CARMELO ANTHONY has again established himself as an elite player, while TYSON CHANDLER might be the league's best defensive player. AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE needs to be a part of things if the Knicks are to knock off the Heat.

The Philadelphia 76ers don't have enough offense to make a splash, while the Orlando Magic aren't likely to win a game without DWIGHT HOWARD. On the coaching front, the playoffs could be a make-or-break scenario for Heat coach ERIK SPOELSTRA and possibly the Knicks' MIKE WOODSON. Spoelstra has been held under great scrutiny since he took the job, while Woodson might need to get out of the first round to keep his. TOM THIBODEAU did yeoman's work with Rose injured for much of the season The Pacers' FRANK VOGEL is a rising star in the coaching ranks.