What will you be watching most intently as the Eastern Conference finals move to Cleveland this weekend?
Steve Aschburner: I'll be watching the Celtics to see how much stock we should put in their 1-4 road record this postseason, as well as the conventional playoff wisdom about role players and young guys faring better at home than in road games. This is their series to lose now, and while they theoretically could just take care of business at TD Garden, the Celtics' best shot at closing out "The King" is to stay in front of him and the Cavaliers. Cleveland's role players probably will play better at Quicken Loans Arena (some of them can't possibly play worse), and the longer this series goes, the closer it gets, the more vulnerable Boston comes to being beaten by an unfortunate mistake, a shaky call or a stint of superheroism by LeBron James.
Shaun Powell: I'll be watching for any signs of surrender from LeBron James. Not necessary in terms of giving up in this series, but giving up on Cleveland. Because let's face it, his decision this summer is more interesting than the Cavs' chances of getting beyond the Celtics or winning another title this year. I don't care about whether J.R. Smith shows up, or if Kevin Love can somehow outplay Al Horford or if Jaylen Brown and/or Jayson Tatum can take another leap in their development. Give me LeBron and a hint (body language, cryptic message, etc.) of what's coming in July. That's what we all live for, right?
John Schuhmann: If LeBron James can get to the basket. Through the first two playoff rounds, James was averaging a postseason-high 14.4 points per game in the restricted area. But he has totaled just 18 points in the restricted area through the first two games against Boston, with the Celtics doing a great job of getting back in transition and staying in front of him in the half court. Even when he scored 21 points in the first quarter of Game 2, five of his eight buckets came from outside the paint. The Celtics are happy if most of his offense is coming from 3-point range (where he's shooting 29 percent in the playoffs) and on turnaround 18-footers out of the post. If the Cavs can find a way to get him to the basket more often (get him moving off the ball?), they'll get the Boston defense scrambling and other things will open up. The Cleveland defense is never going to be good, but the offense that destroyed Toronto has scored less than a point per possession (and made just one corner three) through the first two games of the conference finals.
Sekou Smith: Body language on the Cavaliers. We already know the Celtics are connected in the ways needed for a team to scrap its way into The Finals. The Celtics might not show up to the arena in matching suits (as the Cavs do). But the core players have been through so much adversity the past two seasons they've been forced to band together to survive it all. The Cavaliers have looked like the disjointed bunch that they are in the first two games of this series. That magical word that NBA types always throw around - "trust" - I don't know if the Cavaliers have it in each other or in their coach. That worries me and makes me wonder just what has gone on behind the scenes this season without former GM David Griffin around to perform his front-office magic. The way the Cavaliers perform in Games 3 and 4 will speak volumes about who and what they are these days.