The NBA playoffs are right around the corner, and there is still much to be decided in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the preseason favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
The playoff picture has changed with the surprising play of breakout teams like Boston, Charlotte and Toronto. But just who has the best shot of knocking off LeBron and the Cavs?
Connor Donahue: The only team that has a legitimate shot at knocking off the Cavaliers is Toronto, who, by the way, owns the season series against the Cavs (2-1). The Raptors are only two games out of the one seed with two games to go.
If the sky continues to fall in Cleveland, the Raptors might be able to steal the one seed. Top seed or not, Toronto absolutely has the potential to make it to the NBA Finals. Their frontcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry rivals any team in the East. Demarre Carroll is finally back from injury, and returning to the swing of things.
Possible NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey has wisely limited Carroll’s minutes in order for him to fully recover by the start of the playoffs. And they’ll need him: Carroll is one of the best in the business when it comes to guarding LeBron.
Matt Barresi: The Celtics really ought to be considered the biggest threat to the Cavaliers. Although their season has had some shaky moments, they have what it takes.
They were the first team to knock off the Golden State Warriors at home and took them to overtime in Boston. They have an All-Star in Isaiah Thomas and when Avery Bradley is shooting well, one of the best backcourts in the league. Bradley has improved substantially this year.
The Celtics also have one of the premier coaches in the NBA in Brad Stevens. He’s great when it comes to X’s and O’s, but also excels at team building. He’ll have this team rearing to go in the playoffs.
Connor: There is no doubt that Boston is a better team than last year. The younger guys are developing, and they play harder than any other team in the NBA. But the Celtics just aren’t there yet. Last year the Cavs bounced them out of the playoff in four straight games.
With their improvements this year, the C’s might win two games in that series, but they can’t beat Cleveland four times. At least not yet. Next year? Yes, it might be a different story. But Toronto has gone through this development process and they’re ready for Cleveland right now.
Matt: The Celtics have the ability to mimic a team that has given the Cavaliers trouble: the Warriors. Their backcourt isn’t as elite, but they have a more well-rounded rotation with Marcus Smart in the mix and they have their own Draymond Green in Jae Crowder.
Crowder has been the x-factor for the Celtics, playing the stretch four slot in crunch time and with him healthy, it gives Stevens more lethal combinations to use. Let’s not forget Boston will have revenge on their mind as well, as Cleveland bumped them out last year.