LeBron James has won 23 consecutive Eastern Conference playoffs series. Is there any reason at all to think it won't be 24?
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David Aldridge: Two words: Brad Stevens. He's the best chance the Celtics (I am assuming Boston doesn't blow its 3-1 lead over Philadelphia) have against Cleveland; his ability to take whatever players are in front of him and make them a cohesive unit is amazing. And his roster this year is better equipped to compete with James' Cavaliers than last year's, even with all the current injuries that have taken out Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Terry Rozier has been a revelation at point guard in the playoffs, and he'll cause the Cavs problems; his matchup with George Hill will be a huge factor in the series. If the Celtics can get Jaylen Brown through the rest of the Sixers' series without him aggravating his hamstring, three potential days off before the conference finals could be big.
I just think Boston is much more dynamic offensively this year than at this time last year, when Isaiah Thomas was hobbling. Having said all that, seeing J.R. Smith and George Hill show signs of life in the Toronto series and seeing Kevin Love really get rolling the last three games against the Raptors means James should have enough help to make it 24 out of 24.
Steve Aschburner: Not anymore. There were reasons he might not have won No. 22: the Cavaliers weren't playing well as the regular season ended and the Pacers came into the first round with no fear, no intimidation and both the game plan and the personnel to give Cleveland fits. James and Co. survived, but that series - the fatigue of it, the lack of preparation for their next opponent - became the reason they would fall in No. 23.
Didn't happen. Not even close.
The Cavs have plugged leaks and polished their act into something close to Finals-worthy, and that will continue against either of the young, vulnerable teams on the other side of the East bracket.
Shaun Powell: It'll be a surprise if he doesn't win 24. This isn't to take away from the gutsy Celtics or upstart Sixers, whomever will be standing in LeBron James' way next.
But this might be the weakest Eastern playoff field LeBron has ever seen, given that he went through (a) the post-Paul George Pacers and (b) the mentally-flawed Raptors and will then see (c) the Celtics without Kyrie Irving or the Sixers will a bunch of kids. Also, the Cavs are finally hitting their stride right about now.
John Schuhmann: There are certainly reasons to believe that Boston has a chance. (With apologies to Philadelphia, I'm assuming the Sixers don't make history by coming back from a 3-0 deficit.)
The Celtics had the No. 1 defense in the league and have the size on the perimeter to defend LeBron James and stay at home on the Cavs' shooters a lot better than Toronto did. The Celtics have been the better, more consistent and more resilient team than the Cavs (who have won just two playoff games by more than four points), and Al Horford has been the second-best player in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
They will be able to take advantage of some matchups on their end of the floor, though they might not have the overall firepower to keep up with the Cavs if James' teammates can provide some support. And of course, it remains difficult to pick against James before he reaches the NBA Finals.
Sekou Smith: There's no reason to believe in anything other than the power of LeBron. He's shown us enough the past 15 years - and the last eight in particular - that when it comes to the race for the Eastern Conference title, he's the one thing we can count on.
Boston and Philadelphia pose much different problems for the Cavaliers compared to the Raptors, so LeBron and Co. shouldn't go into this next round overconfident. But they should be secure in the fact that the one, true difference-maker in this whole thing still resides in northeast Ohio. Until that changes, it's wise to bet on LeBron.