NBA

NBA Playoffs: Preview and Predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals

NBA Playoffs: Preview and Predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals
LeBron James posts up Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the 2016 NBA playoffs reaching the Conference Finals stage, we’d like to believe that we have a good idea of how the West will be won. And yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean things will work out that way. After all, a prediction is just that: a prediction. Still, it won’t prevent us from tackling the Eastern Conference Finals. Especially when it’s a matchup between No. 1 and No. 2.

In just a few hours, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors will begin the last leg in the quest for Eastern Conference supremacy. During the regular season, Toronto had the upper hand, winning two out of three meetings. But as we’ve learned, this is not the same Cavs team. Not even close.

As of right now, what happened in the regular season is inconsequential. This is a whole new ball game. Regardless of the outcome, something tells us this will be an entertaining series. However, if we had to guess how the Eastern Conference Finals would play out, this is what we see going down.

Breaking down the Cavaliers

NBA Playoffs: Preview and Predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals
Kevin Love celebrates after scoring. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

Ever since the creation of the latest installment of the “Big Three,” the Cleveland Cavaliers have been the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Yet, truth be told, while there’s no denying the individual greatness of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, it’s safe to say that this group had never really played up to its true potential; not as a full unit anyways.

We’ve always wondered what that would look like — and now we don’t have to. We’ve seen it during these playoffs. And it should strike fear in the rest of the NBA. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Cleveland is averaging 107.8 points per game (second in the postseason), knocking down 46.2% of its triples, rocking an incredible 117.0 offensive rating, and is a perfect 8-0. This club has officially turned into the sort of juggernaut we all knew it could be. And if you don’t believe us, just ask the Atlanta Hawks.

Those poor souls saw it firsthand. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, James (24.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 7.8 APG), Love (19 PPG, 13 RPG, 2.5 APG), and Irving (21.3 PPG, 6.3 APG) provided a balanced attack on the offensive side of the floor. The Cavs unleashed an unhealthy barrage of firepower from beyond the arc — 77 threes on 50.7% shooting — along with the kind of selfless, fluid ball that results in 103 total assists.

Rest, confidence, and genuine swagger. That’s what the Cavaliers have going for them at the moment. They will be hard to beat. But the Raptors appear up to the challenge.

Breaking down the Raptors

NBA Playoffs: Preview and Predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals
Kyle Lowry looks to make a play. | Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Unlike Cleveland, Toronto did anything but coast through the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Only after a hard-fought seven-game series were Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and the rest of the Raptors able to dispatch a pesky Miami Heat squad and advance to the franchise’s first-ever Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

While most folks probably don’t think Toronto has enough talent to topple the East’s No. 1 seed, we think it’d be foolish to overlook this team’s backcourt. The fact is, it’s legit. In spite of shooting just 25% from three-point range, DeRozan managed to provide 22.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game.

For his part, Lowry added a cool 23.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.6 steals a night. As long as these two are knocking down shots, the Raptors should never be counted out of a game. They may not be the flashiest bunch, but this is a Toronto team that won 56 games during the regular season. And that means something.

If the Raptors hope to dethrone the Eastern Conference champs, then they better be ready to play their best ball of the year. That, or at least stop the Cavs from continuing to play theirs.

The outcome

NBA Playoffs: Preview and Predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals
LeBron James reacts after a made basket. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Given the fact that this is the playoffs, nothing is impossible — isn’t that right, K.G.? Still, with the way the Cavs are currently rolling, we don’t think there’s any team in the East that can stop them now. That’s not a knock on the Raptors. That’s just an acknowledgment of how lethal Cleveland has been since the start of the postseason. The King should retain his Eastern Conference crown and the Cavs will get another shot at Finals glory.

Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers in five games

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, and NBA.com.