NBA Roundtable: Conference Finals Preview + Picks
NBA Roundtable: Conference Finals Preview + Picks

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the Conference Finals edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable.

Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we break down the storylines heading into Round 3 of the NBA postseason.

Has Kyrie Irving played his final games in a Celtics uniform?

Nick Whalen: I think he has. The Anthony Davis domino is yet to fall, and while the Celtics can offer an attractive package, striking a deal seems less-likely now than it did a few months ago. I think Kyrie has his sights set on the Knicks, but I'm personally rooting for a LeBron reunion on the opposite coast.

Mike Barner: Yes. I think he signs with the Knicks. If not, as crazy as it sounds, he might end up back with LeBron on the Lakers.

Jeff Edgerton: That's really anyone's guess at this early date, but a lot depends on the Lakers and LeBron. Reports indicate Irving is toying with the idea of a reunion, but that option is speculative, at best. He won't return to Boston.

Ken Crites: Yes. I think he'll end up on the Lakers.

Adam King: All indications would be that Irving is done with the Celtics. And to be honest, the fans are probably ready to move on as well. There appear to be a number of potential suitors with the Knicks and Nets both being thrown around as landing spots. There has also been chatter about a possible reunion with LeBron in LA but my feeling is that he is headed to New York, although it could be dependent on a number of other key free-agents and where they end up.

Alex Barutha: Yes. The relationship seems irreparable. My money would be on the Knicks, but I think it would be fun to see him pair up with LeBron again in LA.

Alex Rikleen: Yes. Amazingly, I think a reuniting with LeBron James in LA has somehow become the most likely scenario. The Knicks are also a leading contender. But, with Kyrie, literally anything could happen.

Eastern Conference Finals Prediction:

Whalen: Bucks in 7

Barner: Bucks in 6

Edgerton: Bucks in 5

Crites: Raptors in 7

King: Bucks in 6

Barutha: Bucks in 7

Rikleen: Bucks in 6

What will be the single biggest factor that determines the series winner?

Whalen: Which team's role players show up. Kawhi is going to be a nightmare on both ends, and so is Giannis – to me, they virtually cancel each other out – but Toronto will need more out of nearly all of its secondary contributors, while Milwaukee will need to continue to get value out of guys like Pat Connaughton and George Hill. Heading into Game 1, I'm more confident in the Bucks' supporting cast, but the Raptors' frontcourt depth could give Milwaukee trouble – especially if Brook Lopez again struggles to space the floor (6-27 3PT vs. Boston).

Barner: I don't think the Raptors have enough depth or offensive firepower to beat the Bucks four times in seven games. Kawhi can't carry them past a team as talented as the Bucks.

Edgerton: Giannis will obviously have to play at a high level, but the biggest task is finding a way to stop Kawhi Leonard, who is playing MVP-level ball in the postseason. Both Giannis and Khris Middleton will need to step it up defensively to contain him.

Crites: Three-point shooting – specifically, whether Giannis can continue to be a threat.

King: The individual battle between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard. Both will significantly impact the outcome of the series but I think it will be the depth of the Bucks that proves to be the difference. Malcolm Brogdon continues to work his way back from injury and was starting to look more like himself as their previous series wrapped up. Pat Connaughton has emerged as an impactful piece, continuing to see big minutes despite both Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic returning.

Barutha: The role players. Giannis vs. Kawhi feels like it could even out, so the production of guys like Middleton, Bledsoe, Lowry, and Gasol will be especially important.

Rikleen: Are the Raptors a two-man team or an eight-man team? The "bench mob" that dominated second units in 2017-18 feels like a distant memory, and at times during Round 2, it felt like the Raptors couldn't even field a full five. If Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol play up to their All-Star level potential, and if Danny Green plays like the seasoned playoff veteran that he should be, then that could give the Raptors a high enough floor that Kawhi Leonard's dominance can overwhelm the Bucks. But Fred VanVleet and Green were mostly useless against the 76ers, and Lowry and Gasol were highly inconsistent. Leonard and Siakam alone are not enough to match the Bucks.

Western Conference Finals Prediction:

Whalen: Warriors in 4

Barner: Warriors in 6

Edgerton: Warriors in 5

Crites: Warriors in 7

King: Warriors in 6

Barutha: Warriors in 6.

Rikleen: Warriors in 5

How much, if at all, do the continued absences of Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins affect your pick?

Whalen: Not at all. With Durant, maybe the Warriors win every game by 15+, but this roster is so packed with high-end talent that Golden State can lose both the best scorer in the world and a two-time All-NBA center and still be an overwhelming favorite to advance to the Finals. The bigger issue, though, is Damian Lillard falling off a cliff after the OKC series. Yes, he's averaging over 24 points in eight games since that series ended, but he's really only had one great game in that stretch, and it came in Game 1 against Denver. Throw that one out and he's shooting 38% from the floor and 29% from three in his last seven. That includes an awful Game 1 performance Tuesday night, when he took just 12 shots and turned the ball over seven times.

Barner: None. I think the Rockets were a tougher matchup for the Warriors than the Blazers will be. I'll give the Blazers an extra game due to the Durant injury, but I'm still picking the Warriors to advance.

Edgerton: People often forget that the Warriors were winning championships before Durant joined the team, and they proved their mettle against an arguably stronger opponent in the Rockets. The Blazers live and die by Lillard and McCollum and they have injury issues of their own (Hood, Kanter).

Crites: If both remain out, the series could go to seven games, rather than five.

King: The loss of Kevin Durant certainly makes a difference but we have seen the Warriors step up without him. If Jusuf Nurkic was playing, the loss of DeMarcus Cousins would be more of a factor – the Warriors should have enough healthy bodies to at least limit a banged-up Enes Kanter.

Barutha: I would probably pick the Warriors in five if KD was available.

Rikleen: Totally irrelevant to me. My pick was 100% based on two factors: the Warriors' mentality, and the Blazers' three-point shooting. With or without Durant and/or Cousins, the Warriors hold a massive talent advantage. Similarly, if two great shooters make 45% of their threes in a game, it's hard for the other team to compete, no matter who the two teams involved are.

NBA Finals prediction:

Whalen: Warriors over Bucks in 5

Barner: Warriors over Bucks in 6

Edgerton: If DeMarcus Cousins returns and plays at full strength, Warriors in 6. Without him? Bucks in 7

Crites: Warriors over Raptors in 6

King: Bucks over Warriors in 7

Barutha: Warriors over Bucks in 7

Rikleen: Warriors over Bucks in 7

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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