Injuries, which played a key role in the NBA regular season, are likely to affect the playoffs as well, with a handful of stars attempting to shake off nagging problems this week.
Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and Gerald Wilkins among those recently hobbled who are attempting to return.Portland, which snapped the Los Angeles Lakers' nine-year hold on the Pacific Division title, is the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Chicago, which won 60 games for the first time in franchise history, is the top seed in the East.
Both of the No. 1 seeds have been relatively injury-free.
The two-time defending champion Detroit Pistons are the No. 3 seed in the East and will have homecourt advantage against No. 6 Atlanta in the first round, in which all series are best-of-5.
The first-round playoff pairings, seedings and predictions:
No. 8 New York at No. 1 Chicago - The Bulls swept the Knicks in four games during the season, and Chicago needed less than 12 minutes to wipe out a 24-point deficit in their final meeting two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden. New York won 10 of its final 13 games at home, but lost nine of 11 on the road, a bad omen when the series has four games at Chicago Stadium. Jordan, the NBA's leading career scorer in playoff history, won let his teammates start looking ahead. Bulls in 3.
No. 7 Indiana at No. 2 Boston - Despite the disparity in seedings, the Pacers are going into this series with some reason for confidence. The Celtics split four games between the teams during the season, and Bird's back problems sidelined from the first week of April until Sunday's final game. His health for the playoffs is uncertain, but the Celtics will be awfully tough to beat at Boston Garden even if he is still slowed. Celtics in 4.
No. 6 Atlanta at No. 3 Detroit- Thomas came to the rescue just in time for the Pistons, making them reappear as a formidable team just when it started to look like the championship magic was gone. Pistons in 5.
No. 5 Philadelphia at No. 4 Milwaukee - Injuries also are a big factor in this series, with Charles Barkley returning only last week for the 76ers. Dale Ellis is out for Milwaukee, having been replaced by a rusty Adrian Dantley. The Bucks, who lost four consecutive games before blowing out Indiana by 33 in their season finale, were nearly unbeatable at home in the first half. 76ers in 4.
No. 8 Seattle at No. 1 Portland - The Trail Blazers finished with the NBA's best record and had 16 consecutive victories before a loss to Phoenix on Sunday. Many of the key Sonics, including Benoit Benjamin, Shawn Kemp and rookie Gary Payton will be making their first NBA playoff appearances. Trail Blazers in 3.
No. 7 Golden State at No. 2 San Antonio - The Warriors' victory over Utah on Sunday brought about this matchup, which looks much tougher for Golden State than the Jazz would have been. San Antonio center David Robinson had 1,063 rebounds and 320 blocked shots this season. Chances are that Alton Lister, who had 483 rebounds and 90 blocks for the Warriors, would rather face Mark Eaton of the Jazz. Spurs in 5.
No. 6 Houston at No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers - The Rockets scared everyone at the beginning of the month when they were concluding a 17-1, 29-5 stretch drive. Since then, Houston is 3-5 and not so formidable-looking, but the Lakers have to be worrying about the Hakeem Olajuwon-Vlade Divac matchup at center. Magic Johnson is well-rested since Los Angeles had no playoff position to fight for in the final week. Lakers in 4.
No. 5 Utah at No. 4 Phoenix - The Jazz are emotionally volatile, with first-round playoff upset losses the last two years, then blowing the Midwest title on the final day of the regular season. But the Suns have problems of their own, with Kevin Johnson, Chambers and Dan Majerle returning from injuries. These two teams, which opened the season with a split of consecutive games in Tokyo last November, should battle to the wire again. Last season, it was Kevin Johnson who beat the Jazz in the final game at Salt Lake City. This time, the Jazz will find a way to win. Jazz in 5.