1 Can the Bulls depend on Derrick Rose?
The Bulls are 31--7 with the reigning MVP, 17--9 without him. Team sources maintain that while Chicago remains concerned about Rose's health—his injuries this season include his back, groin, ankle and foot—reestablishing his rhythm is a more pressing issue. In April, Rose (left) is shooting just 32.9% and his turnovers have spiked to 4.8 per game. "He doesn't look comfortable in his own body," says a scout. "He doesn't look like he trusts his body to respond to what he wants it to do."
2 Will the Spurs' undersized frontcourt hold up?
San Antonio has auditioned centers alongside Tim Duncan all season. The Spurs' perimeter-oriented bigs (Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw) create matchup problems, but with the supersized front lines of Oklahoma City, L.A. and Memphis lurking, San Antonio can't rely on Duncan alone. Coach Gregg Popovich, however, is a master at disguising a weakness. "He will find schemes that hide a poor big defender with traps, doubles and digs," says a scout. "He will find ways to keep them from being exploited."
3 How big a factor will Avery Bradley be in the playoffs?
The second-year Boston guard is averaging 15.7 points in April, but it's his defense that could make the difference in the playoffs. At 6'2", Bradley can defend either guard spot: He held Jameer Nelson to five points on Jan. 23 and Dwyane Wade to 6-of-17 shooting on April 1. That versatile, hounding D will be valuable against one possible second-round opponent. Says a scout, "If they play Chicago and they have [Rajon] Rondo on Rose for half the game and Bradley the other half, over seven games Rose will wear down."
4 Will the other Lakers step up?
Kobe Bryant, 33, is having a prolific season, second in the league in scoring (27.9 points per game) while averaging 23.0 field goal attempts, his most in seven years. But something funny happened during his recent seven-game absence with a sore left shin: The Lakers played well. Really well. L.A. went 5--2 sans Kobe as Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace picked up the scoring slack. A balanced attack will be a key for the Lakers: L.A. is 26--19 when Kobe shoots at least 20 times, 10--3 when he doesn't.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (ROSE)