1. Eastern Conference Finals prediction: Cavs or Celtics?
Alex Barutha: Cavs, 6 games. I don't trust LeBron's supporting cast to play well enough to close the thing out in four or five.
Nick Whalen: I could see this playing out a lot like the first-round series for both teams, but picking against LeBron at this point is a foolís errand. That said, Iím not fully convinced the Cavsí offense is back, and theyíre going to have to get something out of Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson off the bench. Cavaliers in six after they split the first two in Boston.
James Anderson: Cavs in six. This Brad Stevens devil magic has gone on much longer than I would like in these playoffs, and it will thankfully come to an end at the hands of The King.
Jeff Edgerton: I think the Cavs will prevail in six.
Shannon McKeown: Cavs in 6. While the NBA may be filled with cute unicorns, Lebron is a dragon. He roasts unicorns with his fire breath and eats them for breakfast. The bashed up Celtics have been cute, but they won't be able to dethrone the King of the Eastern Conference.
Ken Crites: Full disclosure, Iím a huge Celtics fan. I couldnít sleep for three hours after that Game 5 win. I know I will be the only person here to pick the Celtics, butÖ IíM PICKING THE CELTICS. If anyone can figure out how to slow down LeBron James, itís Brad Stevens. We will witness a blinding rotation of Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and, who knows, maybe even Cedric ďCornbreadĒ Maxwell bullying King James into submission. Stevens will force the other Cavs to beat us (yes, I said ďusĒ). J.R. Smith, are you up to the task? I say NO! Boston in seven.
Mike Barner: I said in our first roundtable at the start of the playoffs that the Cavaliers would win the East and Iíll stick with that. The Celtics have done an amazing job with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but beating LeBron is a different story. Cavaliers win the series in six.
2. Western Conference Finals prediction: Warriors or Rockets?
Barutha: Warriors, 6 games. I think the Rockets can get hot enough offensively to win two games. It would take something unprecedented to out-shoot Golden State for a series.
Whalen: Warriors in five. Theyíve saved themselves all season for this series, and the Warriors will issue a stern reminder of just how much more talented they are than everyone else when at full strength.
Anderson: Warriors in six. The Warriors are better, but this Rockets team is up there with last year's Cavs team in terms of a historically great team that won't have a real shot at winning the finals.
Edgerton: Warriors in five.
McKeown: Warriors in 6. The Rockets have been absolute monsters this season, especially when Harden, Paul and Capela are all healthy, but the Warriors are on another level. This truly is one of the greatest teams in the history of any sport.
Crites: Ho hum, whatever. Ten thousand jacked threes is not entertaining. The Rockets looked terrible closing out the Pelicans. And the Warriors absurd outside shooting skills make Clint Capelaís defense a somewhat moot point. The Rockets will repeatedly need great shooting nights from the likes of Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Gerald Green. I donít see that happening. Warriors in five. The regular season was meaningless (see: Raptors, Toronto).
Barner: This series is going to be awesome. Iím going to change my mind on this one and predict the Warriors win in seven games. They seem eager to show the Rockets who the better team is and with Curry healthy, I think they just have too much fire power to overcome.
3. Looking back at the first two rounds of the playoffs, which team(s) or player(s) have been the biggest disappointments?
Barutha: Portland getting swept by New Orleans, and the Oklahoma City "Built for the Playoffs" Thunder.
Whalen: Portland bowing out in four is the obvious choice, and I have to mention Toronto after initially picking the Raptors to beat the Cavs. But the Sixers losing to a wildly shorthanded Boston team in five games is probably the most shocking development. While Embiid was aggressive, both he and Simmons were exposed in a series that most thought they would win in five or six games.
Anderson: Disappointment implies failing to meet expectations, and I really haven't been surprised by anything that's happened in that sense. I'm disappointed that this Bucks team had horrible coaching all season and into the playoffs, because if you swapped Brad Stevens and Joe Prunty, I think the Bucks would be in the Eastern Conference finals, but we knew they had bad coaching coming in, so what happened was not a surprise. It's disappointing that Russell Westbrook is essentially uncoachable, but we also knew that going in.
Edgerton: I really expected more out of the Sixers. They're a young team but I really felt like they had a shot to go further. I also felt like the Jazz were simply outcoached. They just didn't show up when they needed to.
McKeown: Portland and OKC both flaming out in the first-round were huge disappointments, but it's hard to pick against Toronto here. The Raptors were the best team in the East by a mile during the regular season, but they still managed to go out with barely even a whimper against LeBron.
Crites: Over the summer, I gloriously picked the Trail Blazers to finish third out West. But goodness gracious, did they look terrible versus the Pelicans. Why is it so hard to find a frontcourt that can play well with Lillard and McCollum? By the way, Portland fans, you still owe Evan Turner $35 million over the next two years. Enjoy those mid-range jumpers.
Barner: I was really disappointed with the Blazers and Damian Lillard. I thought Lillard would have a huge series, but he really struggled against Jrue Holiday. The fact the Blazers got swept by a Pelicans team missing DeMarcus Cousins was very surprising.
4. Should the Raptors make major changes this summer?
Barutha: I think they need to trade one of Lowry, DeRozan or Ibaka -- DeRozan being the easiest to move -- but still get some win-now assets in return. It feels like they're too good to blow it up completely.
Whalen: If the right moves are there, they should, at the very least, explore a shake-up. But after yet another massive playoff letdown, I donít know that the market for someone like Ibaka or Lowry is going to generate a return that puts Toronto in a better spot than where theyíre at right now. That said, in the wake of the latest LeBron massacre, taking 75 cents on the dollar for a declining player on a bad contract, and entering a mini-rebuild around a deep cache of young players, isnít the least-appealing option. You can say they should wait on LeBronís decision, but even if he heads West, Toronto would be the fifth or sixth-best team in the league next season -- and thatís if everything breaks right for a second straight year.
Anderson: They would be wise to try to trade DeRozan, but it would shock me if they shopped him. Dwane Casey doesn't deserve to be fired, but they probably should shake things up in some manner, and getting rid of the coach is the easiest way to do that.
Edgerton: Obviously some kind of change should be made. They need a more dominant presence at the wing. I wouldn't say that breaking up the backcourt is wise -- thatís what got them here, after all.
McKeown: No. Instead, the Raptors should cross their fingers (talons?) and pray that Lebron goes to a Western Conference team this offseason.
Crites: Paging Serge IbakaÖMr. Ibaka, are you there? They just paid Ibaka north of $21 million to average 8.5 points and 4.3 boards versus the Cavs in Round 2. Yikes. And theyíre stuck with his big contract for two more years. Lowry also has $66 million and two years left on his deal, and DeRozan has three years left at roughly $83.4 million. This is a very long way of saying they are stuck with this roster and their only option for real change is letting Casey go. Yes, Casey was named Coach of the Year by his fellow head coaches, but that is a regular season award. Casey has been Torontoís head coach for seven years. Seven years at one HC job in the NBA is an amazing run. Itís time to move on and find another voice that works better with DeRozan.
Barner: I think the only realistic move they can make is to fire Casey. Lowry and DeRozan both have contracts that wonít make them easy to move and they also have big money tied up in Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Unfortunately for them, they are stuck facing LeBron every year. Unless he moves out West, I donít think there is anything they can do to get over the hump and reach the NBA Finals.
5. Which player has changed your perception of him -- either positively or negatively -- during these playoffs?
Barutha: DeMar DeRozan. This is the second year in a row he's shot 43% from the field in the playoffs and his alleged improved three-point shooting didn't translate. If he's not scoring, he's not doing much else.
Whalen: Jrue Holiday hit another level on both ends that I didnít know he had in him. And Thon Maker saving his three best games of the season for the playoffs was an interesting development. On the other hand, Ben Simmonsí lack of a jumper was much more of an issue than I anticipated. And Paul George disappearing for parts of the Thunder/Jazz series has be reconsidering his place in the overall hierarchy of NBA stars.
Anderson: I'll pick two: Jrue Holiday and Terry Rozier. Holiday has always been good, but I think he showed in these playoffs that he might be the best two-way guard in the league, which is pretty crazy. Rozier has entered Iverson/Van Exel/Jamal Crawford/Kyrie levels of And1 mixtape level highlight reel capabilities. The No. 1 case for Brad Stevens being the league's best coach is Isaiah Thomas. The No. 2 case is Rozier's playoff performance.
Edgerton: Ricky Rubio's performance in the first round was a load of fun to watch. The Jazz would be in the playoffs right now if he had stayed healthy. I never gave a lot of thought to Rubio's play and felt the trade was an odd call, but it has certainly transformed the team.
McKeown: LeBron. He's somehow hitting his peak at age 33. It's baffling and amazing to witness.
Crites: Royce OíNeale. Remember him for next season. He was an awesome role player for the Jazz, averaging 24 minutes per game in their 11 playoff contests. Derrick Favors is moving on, opening time for Jae Crowder at the four and more minutes for OíNeale at the other forward spot. Expect a nice sophomore leap for OíNeale at a bargain price.
Barner: Itís one thing to do a good job as a fill-in starter during the regular season, but the job Terry Rozier has done to help get the Celtics this far has been very impressive. Itís scary to think how good the Celtics could be next year if he keeps playing at this level with Irving and Hayward back, as well.
6. Revised Finals predictions: Whatís the matchup, who wins, and whoís the Finals MVP?
Barutha: Cavs vs. Warriors. Warriors win in 5. Durant wins Finals MVP.
Whalen: Warriors over the Cavs in four games, with Durant coasting and Steph taking home his first Finals MVP. Golden State is as good as itís ever been, while the Cavs -- who had to scratch and claw to steal one game last season -- are significantly worse than last year. LeBron will be LeBron, but heíll realize early on that, once again, he doesnít have the horses to compete.
Anderson: I said Warriors over Cavs in 5 before the playoffs and will stick by that. Steph Curry finally wins a Finals MVP.
Edgerton: I think the Warriors will win in six. LeBron is the unquestioned MVP.
McKeown: No revision needed. I'm still going Cavs/Warriors with Golden State winning in 5.
Crites: Warriors over Celtics in six. The Celtics just have too many injuries to keep up with the speed and outside shooting of the Warriors. Terry Rozier will be running on fumes come Finals time. Steph Curry gets his first Finals MVP.
Barner: The winner of the West is going to win the Finals as well. Iíll take Warriors in six games with Kevin Durant winning the MVP.