Analysis: The Bulls have again ridden their defense to regular season success. After finishing the 2011 season with a league-best 62-20 record, the team's encore performance has netted a league-best 50-16 mark in 2012. The Bulls held opponents to the lowest scoring output in the NBA, limiting their adversaries to just 88.4 points per game. They also topped the league in total and offensive rebounds. Last year's MVP, Derrick Rose, was limited to 39 games, but appears to be healthy for the playoffs. Fifth-year player C.J. Watson has been a capable substitute in his absence, averaging 11.3 points and 4.6 assists in 25 starts. Newly acquired Richard Hamilton also suffered the injury bug, appearing in only 28 games, but the 34-year-old proved an effective option at shooting guard and is healthy heading into the postseason. All signs point to a playoff run for the Bulls. If the seeds hold true, they will meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference championship for the second year in a row. The two teams split four meetings during the season.
Analysis: The Hawks have been a staple in the Eastern Conference playoff picture lately, as 2012 marks the club's fifth consecutive postseason trip. Only six other franchises, the Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Mavericks, Nuggets and Spurs, have been to the playoffs the last five years in a row. However, the Hawks have managed less success than their peers, never advancing past the conference semifinals. If they hope to achieve more this season, they'll have to do so without the services of center Al Horford. The two-time All-Star was lost in the 11th game of the season and it appears he'll be unable to return for the playoffs. In his absence, Josh Smith has averaged career-bests in points (18.8 per game) and rebounds (9.6 per game). He and Joe Johnson (18.8 points per game) do most of the heavy lifting in the scoring column. Third-year player Jeff Teague has settled in as the team's full-time starting point guard.
Chances of Winning Conference Semi-Finals: Bulls 39.1%- Hawks 23.0%