Western Conference


[2] L.A. LAKERS vs.
[3] Dallas Mavericks

Why the Lakers can win: Kobe Bryant has always been determined to win championships, but now he is defiantly refusing to be slowed by a sprained left ankle. However, more than Bryant’s resilience, the Lakers overcame New Orleans point guard Chris Paul because of a commitment to defense, as they held the Hornets to just 85.4 points in the last five games. They have the league’s most lethal front line of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and sixth man of the year Lamar Odom, but Dallas has some size to fight back with in Dirk Nowtizki, Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood. The Mavericks showed considerable toughness in holding off Portland with the timely shooting of Nowitzki and Jason Terry. The Lakers went 2-1 vs. Dallas this year. Though these teams have been relevant for much of the past decade, they haven’t faced each other in the playoffs since 1988.

Difference maker: Gasol, Lakers. Gasol was curiously uninspired against New Orleans, but the Lakers will need him to elevate his game by challenging Nowitzki on both ends of the floor.

Prediction: Lakers in seven.

Monday: at L.A. Lakers, 10:30

Wednesday: at L.A. Lakers, 10:30

Friday: at Dallas, 9:30

Sunday: at Dallas, 3:30

x-May 10: at L.A. Lakers, TBA

x-May 12: at Dallas, TBA

x-May 15: at L.A. Lakers, 3:30

Eastern Conference


[1] Chicago Bulls vs.
[5] Atlanta Hawks

Why the Bulls can win: Chicago needed to scrap in order to stave off eighth-seeded Indiana, as MVP candidate Derrick Rose shot poorly and big free agent pickup Carlos Boozer was practically nonexistent. But they won with the same formula that carried them through the regular season — with stifling defense, the unheralded contributions of Luol Deng and Rose making clutch baskets. After Atlanta beat the Bulls, 83-80, in their first meeting as Rose struggled, he vowed it would never happen again. He scored at least 30 in the last two games, with Chicago winning by a combined 51 points. Atlanta upset the Orlando Magic with a defensive strategy that let Dwight Howard dominate single coverage while his teammates imploded from fewer open looks. But now the Hawks will likely be without their best perimeter defender, Kirk Hinrich, who strained his right hamstring in the series clincher over Orlando. Joe Johnson averaged just 13.7 points against Chicago.

Difference maker: Jamal Crawford, Hawks. With Hinrich out, the Hawks will need more from Crawford, a former Bull who averaged a team-high 20.5 points coming off the bench against the Magic.

Prediction: Bulls in five

Monday: at Chicago, 8

Wednesday: at Chicago, 8

Friday: at Atlanta, 7

Sunday: at Atlanta, 8

x-May 10: at Chicago, TBA

x-May 12: at Atlanta, TBA

x-May 15: at Chicago, TBA

— Michael Lee