Around the NBA: Cavs/C’s, Dubs/Rockets kick off Conference Finals

By Josh Liddick, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Of course as you already know, the Sixers won't be advancing to the next round of the playoffs, after being ousted last week by the Boston Celtics.

So, after two weeks of lopsided second-round matchups throughout the NBA, we finally have our pairs for the conference finals heading into the championship round.

The Boston Celtics, recently off their five game dominance of the Sixers will take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers who are in search of their fourth straight Eastern Conference crown. The Cavs are coming off a four game sweep of the Toronto Raptors, defeating the "We the North" squad for the third straight season in the playoffs.

On the Western Conference front, the Warriors, who ousted the New Orleans Pelicans in five games will have a chance to fight for their fourth straight Western Conference crown against the James Harden-led Houston Rockets, who took down the Utah Jazz in five.

While not nearly as awaited or revered of a series as the Warriors/Rockets, the Cavs/Celtics pairing is one that is superbly underrated for many reasons. For one, LeBron James is playing quite possibly the best basketball of his career in this moment, and he's 33-years-old. For a team that has been underwhelming all season long, LeBron has shown the doubters once again exactly why you just can't bet against the King during this time of the year. His supporting cast hasn't been the most reliable bunch so far, but guys like Kevin Love have finally emerged from the shadows.

The Celtics have been dealing with injuries all season long, but as the first two series have shown, Boston is doing just fine without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in it's lineup. Add in guys like Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and even Aron Baynes, you have a team that was able to upend Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round and then arguably the hottest team in basketball, the Sixers, in the semi-final round.

The Cavs and Celtics are meeting in the Conference finals for the second year in a row, but the teams are almost both completely different than last year's lineups. As much as it would've made incredible storyline material to have LeBron face his former "Robin," Kyrie Irving, you still have a highly intriguing matchup, even if LeBron does prove to be a burden for the Celtics in the entirety of the series.

Prediction: Josh Liddick: Cavs in 6, Brandon Apter: Celtics in 6Sean McBryan: Cavs in 7, Dan Knerr: Cavs in 7

As series entertainment goes, the Warriors/Rockets series has been a billing that has been on the docket for quite some time. The NBA's two best teams will have a chance to duke it out finally to figure out who will represent the West in the NBA Finals.

But will the series end with the Warriors finally falling, denying their chance at their third title in four years, or will they advance, knocking off a Rockets team, taking away Chris Paul's first chance at playing for the Larry O'Brien trophy?

The Rockets and Warriors have both cruised through the playoffs at a rapid rate, knocking off their opponents in decisive fashion. Really, both teams have barely experienced much competition in their first two series.

For Golden State, getting Steph Curry back to full strength might just be the difference maker in who takes the cake in this series. Curry has been outstanding since returning from injury, and getting the gang of Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green healthy enough for another Finals run might be just enough to put the team over the top.

However, don't forget, the Houston Rockets do have home court advantage in this series, which could be a decisive factor if it should go seven games.

James Harden, who in all likelihood is the league's MVP for the 2017-18 season, is poised to have a great series for Houston. His run-ins with the closeness of becoming MVP over and over again have fueled his run to having his best season to date. Now, with added firepower in veteran Chris Paul, the Rockets have went from being "one piece away," to being the favorite to take down the Golden State Warriors and become a brand new representation in the Western Conference.

While the Cavs/Celtics series has either the possibility of going six or seven games, or more of a blowout in the Cavs' favor, this series has the makings of going long distance, as fans have been waiting to experience all season long.

Prediction: Josh: Rockets in 7Brandon: Warriors in 5, Sean: Warriors in 6, Dan: Warriors in 6

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