Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It came down to the final night of the regular season, but the Chicago Bulls finally locked up the No. 1 overall seed for the NBA playoffs thanks to San Antonio's loss in Phoenix.
Chicago's win over New Jersey, combined with the Spurs' defeat against the Suns, means the Bulls will have home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
The schedule starts on Saturday at 1 p.m. (et) when Derrick Rose, the favorite to win the regular season MVP award, leads the Bulls against the Indiana Pacers in the opener of that best-of-seven conference quarterfinal series. The Bulls are the top seed in the Eastern Conference by virtue of finishing with a 62-20 record, the team's best record since the same mark in 1997-98. That's when the Michael Jordan-led Bulls won their third straight and sixth NBA title in eight years.
Chicago, the Central Division champion, won its final nine games and 21 of 23 to close out the season.
The Pacers, who lost three of the four meetings this season, are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Indiana qualified for the postseason thanks in part to a coaching change. Jim O'Brien was let go at in late January and was replaced by assistant Frank Vogel. After a 17-27 start under O'Brien, the Pacers won seven of their next eight games and ended the season with a 37-45 record.
This will be just the second time the Bulls and Pacers will meet in the postseason with Chicago winning in seven games in the East finals in 1998.
The expectations are lofty for Miami's big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as the second-seeded Heat begin the postseason at home on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (et) against the Doug Collins-coached Philadelphia 76ers. Miami's trio combined for over 70 points per game this season. The Southeast Division champions, who also won all three meetings against Philadelphia this season, will meet the Sixers for the first time in the playoffs.
The Sixers, who have lost seven in a row to the Heat, have scored below 100 points in 10 of the past 11 meetings (90.7 ppg).
It was a big turnaround for the Sixers from a 27-55 mark last year. That's mostly due to Collins, who has improved upon his team's win total by 10-plus wins in his first season as head coach in all four of his coaching stops (+10 with Chicago in 1986-87, +18 with Detroit in 1995-96 and +18 with Washington in 2001-02).
Boston, the Atlantic Division and defending Eastern Conference champion, will open the playoffs Sunday at 7 p.m. (et) at home against the sixth-seeded New York Knicks. The same teams concluded the regular season Wednesday night at TD Garden with Boston winning, 112-102.
The Celtics, the 2008 title winners, will play the Knicks in the playoffs for the first time since 1990. That year New York rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the best-of-five first-round series.
The Knicks, who gained huge pieces to their playoff puzzle in midseason with the acquisitions of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups from Denver, were swept in four games by Boston this season.
The 4-5 matchup in the East will see the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic having homecourt advantage against the Atlanta Hawks. The series begins Saturday at 7 p.m. (et). The Magic have traditionally dominated the Hawks during the postseason, as evidenced by an 8-1 record. That included a sweep of last year's East semifinal series.
"You tend to have room to make mistakes in the regular season," Howard said. "But in the playoffs, one mistake, a turnover at a key moment in a game can cost you a game or a series."
The Los Angeles Lakers will start their quest to win a third straight NBA title as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a first-round matchup against Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets. That best-of-seven series begins Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (et) at Staples Center.
The Lakers blew a huge lead in Sacramento Wednesday night, but managed to beat the Kings in overtime to get the second seed.
Reigning two-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant is poised to energize his team again in the postseason, but questions remain regarding the health of center Andrew Bynum. He missed the final game of the regular season with a bone bruise, but should be ready for the playoff opener.
The Lakers swept the Hornets in this season's series and have captured 10 of the last 12 regular season encounters. This will also be the first time the squads will meet in the playoffs.
San Antonio will go into the postseason seeded first in the West with a 61-21 record and a matchup against Memphis in the opening round, starting Sunday at 1 p.m. (et). Led by the veteran trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs surged to the Southwest Division title. However, Ginobili's status going forward is in question. He left Wednesday's season finale early with a hyperextended right elbow and did not return.
"Obviously losing him (Manu) hurts in any game and hopefully it's something minor and he's able to start in the playoffs," Duncan said.
The Grizzlies, in the postseason for the first time since 2006, have never won a playoff game, let alone a series in three tries. The Spurs swept them in 2004.
The Dallas Mavericks have lost in the first round of the playoffs three of the last four years. Seeded third this time in the West, Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of Mark Cuban's bunch will try to overcome a pesky Portland team in the conference quarterfinals. The series begins Saturday at 9:30 p.m. (et) in Dallas.
The Mavs and Blazers split this year's series, with each team winning twice at home. The teams last met in the playoffs in 2003 when Dallas took a grueling seven-game series in the first round.
The Blazers have a playoff streak going they'd like to snap. Portland has lost its last six playoff series, last winning one in 2000, beating Utah in the conference semifinals.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Northwest Division champions, fell to the fourth seed on Wednesday by losing in overtime, at home against Milwaukee. Kevin Durant and Co. will take on the new-look Nuggets, beginning Sunday at 9:30 p.m. (et). During the regular season, the Thunder won three of the four meetings.
This will also be the first time these franchises will meet in the postseason since 1994 when the then-Seattle SuperSonics blew a 2-0 lead in the first round before being shocked in overtime on their home court in the decisive fifth game.
"Defense is going to be a big key to this series. We just got to be ready to play. We got to rebound and hustle," Denver guard J.R. Smith said.
04/14 02:19:24 ET