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DBB on 3: The Conference Finals

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Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs was somehow less exciting than Round 1, but that won’t be the case for the Conference Finals

NBA: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a few tougher-than-expected battles in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the second round went quicker and according to (most people’s) plan. This leaves us with a conference finals round that should prove a lot more interesting.

The West features the matchup most saw coming just a few weeks into the season: Golden State vs Houston. According to ESPN, going by efficiency, this is the best offensive matchup in modern NBA history. Since team turnovers became official in 1973-74, there has never been a playoff series between squads that both averaged at least 112 points per 100 possessions. Damn.

In the East we have the perennial favorites vs the “They Shouldn’t Be Here’s” in Cleveland vs Boston. No one saw Boston here when Gordon Hayward went down in the first five minutes of game one, and that sentiment grew when they lost Kyrie Irving for the season. Yet here they are, and Brad Stevens is quickly becoming even more revered (look out Pop, the new kid’s gaining ground in the popularity contest).

While this may look from the outset like a fourth(!) straight matchup of the Cavs vs the Warriors, it’s easily the most competitive matchup in both Conference in these last four years. ESPN’s BPI actually has the Rockets with a 64 percent chance of getting to the Finals and it gives the Celtics with a 72 percent chance to make their way through.

With that set up let’s take a look at how a few of our writers see this going down plus we asked a question about those unlucky four who fell to the wayside last round.

(Editor’s note: All of these picks were submitted prior to Boston’s Game 1 win)

1. Cleveland vs Boston: Who you got and in how many? What’s your prediction on the story line that will define the series?

Justin Lambregtse: Cleveland in 5. Brad Stevens has done a masterful job with the undermanned Celtics this postseason, but LeBron James is too good and he will continue his dominant postseason.

Lazarus Jackson: Cavs in 6. My tweet about picking against LeBron in non-Warriors situations still stands.

Ben Gulker: LeBron in 5.

Steve Hinson: The average margin of victory for the Cavs in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics was 26 points. The only game the Celtics won was because Marcus Smart lost his mind and went 7-10 from three. Repeat of last year, Cavs in 5. Storyline will be similar to the Raptors’ exit, where the team feels good about their regular season but has an existential crisis after being steamrolled by LeBron. No firings or anything, but the Celtics looking in the mirror and feeling all inadequate.

Chris Daniels: I’m going out on a limb and say Boston in 7. Al Horford has played amazingly well in his papa bear role, and Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier seem to have no fear of the spotlight. If Aron Baynes can prove as effective as he was against Philly this could be very interesting. Plus if Lebron goes out before the Finals, we’ll have an offseason to end all offseasons.

David Fernandez: Cleveland in 6. This Boston team is outstanding but LeBron, and more importantly, his supporting cast really turned it up in the Toronto series. If the supporting casts looks like they did against Indy, then Boston could take this series in 7.

2. Golden State vs Houston: Who you got and in how many? What’s your prediction on the story line that will define the series?

Justin Lambregtse: Houston in 7. This will be a hard fought series and it will ultimately come down to who has home court advantage, which is the Rockets. The storyline will be Chris Paul killing the narrative that he can’t lead a team to the Finals as he takes over and leads the Rockets in scoring.

Lazarus Jackson: Warriors in.... 5. I sincerely hope this series goes longer than five games, but my tweet about the Warriors still stands.

Ben Gulker: Warriors in 7. Warriors will be keyed in defensively, and their offense will be better than Houston’s defense.

Steve Hinson: This is what we’ve been waiting for all season. I’m going to take the Rockets in 7 because of Gerald Green’s hair. But this is a tight matchup, I could legitimately see it going either way. I think the storyline will be that this could be one of the best series that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Chris Daniels: Houston in 7. This, like picking Boston is a bit of wishful thinking, but I think Houston can do this. As with Baynes in the East, a lot will ride on how effective Clint Capela can be in this matchup. And as with the possibility of Lebron getting knocked out early, the idea of the “Chosen Ones” being knocked out would make this summer an incredibly interesting one.

David Fernandez: Golden State in 6. The storyline is simple: The Warriors are too good, no matter who they play against.

3. Toronto, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Utah: whose off season will be the most intriguing from a positive or negative stance?

Justin Lambregtse: Toronto from a negative stance. This was supposed to be the year for them, and they still got swept by the Cavs. They will have to determine if it is time to blow it up and start trying to build a better team for the future, or run it back next year if LeBron leaves the East and you have to deal with the up-and-coming Celtics and Sixers.

Lazarus Jackson: THIS is a good question. Philadelphia, I think, is the traditional answer because of their ability to add a max-level free agent to the “core” of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, but Utah has more cap space than you’d think and Donovan Mitchell’s ascension will be attractive to other players. On the negative side, poor Toronto just fired Dwane Casey, but that doesn’t change the fundamental question of “How Do We Beat LeBron,” so it might not even matter.

Ben Gulker: Philly. Right now their ceiling seems sky high. A smart offseason could push them to the next level, but throwing big money at mediocre players could cause them to stagnate.

Steve Hinson: Philly’s. They relied so heavily on contributions from J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova, all of whom aren’t under contract for next year. So do they #TrustTheProcess and let their young guys like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Richaun Holmes, and Justin Anderson step up to fill those roles and risk a step backwards, or try to bring them back? Or can they finally land a big free agent? LeBron James isn’t going there, that’s just false hope. But what about Paul George? Or chasing even more young talent with a restricted free agent like Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, or Jabari Parker?

Chris Daniels: I think they’re all interesting for different reasons, but Toronto is the obvious choice for “Team Offseason Turnover.” However, the choice New Orleans has to bring back Boogie or not, plus seeing what players Philly and Utah add to their promising cores will also be fun to watch.

David Fernandez: Toronto. They already fired Casey, now it’ll be interesting to see if they make any major moves from a roster perspective.

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Those are our thoughts and predictions, what are yours? Please copy/paste the questions and share your answers in the comments below.

1. Cleveland vs Boston: Who you got and in how many? What’s your prediction on the story line that will define the series?

2. Golden State vs Houston: Who you got and n how many? What’s your prediction on the story line that will define the series?

3. Toronto, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Utah: whose off season will be the most intriguing from a positive or negative stance?