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Eastern Conference first-round matchups

Detroit Pistons vs. Orlando Magic

Seeds, records: 1. Detroit (50-32) vs. 8. Orlando (42-40).

Streaking: The Pistons have lost six of nine. The Magic have lost six of nine.

Season series: Detroit, 2-1.

Top guns: Detroit ÑÊRichard Hamilton, 19.8 points, 3.9 rebounds; Chauncey Billups, 16.4 points, 3.9 assists. Orlando ÑÊTracy McGrady, 32.1 points, 6.5 rebounds; Drew Gooden, 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds.

Key matchup: Hamilton vs. McGrady.

X factor: Ben Wallace.

The skinny: Detroit's hopes hinge on the health of Wallace, the rebounding and shot-blocking phenom who missed the last six games with a sprained knee but is expected to play in the series. Neither team has played well down the stretch. McGrady must come up huge and get help from Gooden and Gordon Giricek if the Magic are to have a chance.

The pick: Pistons in five.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. New Orleans Hornets

Seeds, records: 4. Philadelphia (48-34) vs. 5. New Orleans (47-35).

Streaking: The 76ers have lost five of six. The Hornets have won five in a row.

Season series: New Orleans, 2-1.

Top guns: Philadelphia ÑÊAllen Iverson 27.5 points, 5.5 assists; Keith Van Horn, 15.9 points, 7.1 rebounds. New Orleans ÑÊJamal Mashburn, 21.7 points, 6.0 rebounds; Baron Davis, 17.0 points, 6.5 assists.

Key matchup: Mashburn vs. Van Horn.

X factor: Larry Brown.

The skinny: Philadelphia's season has been a roller-coaster ride, and the Sixers go into the playoffs on a down note. David Wesley must keep Iverson from being a one-man wrecking crew. Van Horn must give Philly something to offset the production of Mashburn. Brown will have to work his coaching magic for the Sixers.

The pick: Hornets in six.

Indiana Pacers vs. Boston Celtics

Seeds, records: 3. Indiana (48-34) vs. 6. Boston (44-38).

Streaking: The Pacers have won two in a row. The Celtics have lost four of six.

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Top guns: Indiana ÑÊJermaine O'Neal, 20.7 points, 10.3 rebounds; Reggie Miller, 12.6 points, 2.4 assists. Boston ÑÊPaul Pierce, 26.1 points, 7.3 rebounds; Antoine Walker, 20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds.

Key matchup: O'Neal vs. Walker.

X factor: Ron Artest.

The skinny: This is a chance for O'Neal to prove he is one of the best big men in the game. The playoffs have traditionally been Miller time, but this season the veteran guard has shown less life than ever. He must rise up and not let Pierce dominate. And Artest must play under control but with his usual zeal.

The pick: Pacers in six.

New Jersey Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Seeds, records: 2. New Jersey (49-33) vs. 7. Milwaukee (42-40).

Streaking: The Nets have lost four of five. The Bucks have won eight of nine.

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Top guns: New Jersey ÑÊJason Kidd, 18.8 points, 8.9 assists; Kenyon Martin, 16.7 points, 8.4 rebounds. Milwaukee ÑÊGary Payton, 20.0 points, 7.3 assists; Sam Cassell, 19.7 points, 5.8 assists.

Key matchup: Kidd vs. Payton.

X factors: Dikembe Mutombo and Toni Kukoc.

The skinny: This should be an entertaining series, with plenty of question marks for both teams. Milwaukee has found its stride of late, and Kukoc has made major contributions off the bench. Mutombo has been out most of the year because of injury, and the Nets need him to be a force in the middle.

The pick: Bucks in six.

Ñ Kerry Eggers