The Eastern Conference Finals (ECF)—exclusively on ESPN—is set with the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James facing the Toronto Raptors and Kyle Lowry. Action begins tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET and ESPN analysts and insiders are already making strong predictions ahead of the series’ tip-off.
Jon Barry, NBA analyst: Toronto will rely heavily on their All-Stars backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. They both must be far more efficient than they have been in the first two rounds. The Raptors could also benefit from a return of their center Jonas Valanciounas, who has been terrific thus far in the playoffs. But if the Cavs continue to move the ball and shoot anywhere near the way they did in the previous round, this could be a quick 5 game series.
Chris Broussard, NBA insider: The Cavaliers just need to continue playing as they have— moving the ball offensively and shooting well from 3-point range. Bottom line: they are far superior to Toronto. If Cleveland loses this series, it will be one of the greatest upsets/collapses in modern sports history. Toronto cannot beat Cleveland. Cleveland has to fold, play terribly and beat itself. That’s no slight on the Raptors. They are simply facing a major talent deficit. Cavs in 5.
Brad Daugherty, NBA analyst (former Cavaliers player): Cavs are playing great team ball. Everyone is touching the ball so you can’t key on LeBron anymore. Off their motion offense is devastating when they make open threes. You can’t stop them when they shoot it well. Toronto finally put it together offensively; [Bismack] Biyombo was a pleasant surprise with [Patrick] Patterson. They’re big too though can light it up with the best of them. This series will be a shoot out! Cavs in 6.
Amin Elhassan, NBA Front Office insider: The Cavs and Raptors arrive at the ECF taking completely opposite paths, with Cleveland taking the minimum amount of games and Toronto taking the max amount to games. Cleveland must continue to move the ball as they have been the first two rounds, as this balanced attack has led to a preponderance of three point shots. For Toronto, they need solid contributions from their bigs and they need to continue to get to the free-throw line, particularly [Kyle] Lowery and [DeMar] DeRozan. They also need to be prepared to run Cleveland off of the three-point line. Cavs in 5.
Mark Jones, NBA play-by-play commentator: Toronto’s advantage in the regular season against Cleveland means absolutely nothing. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry has to play their absolute best. As far as Cleveland is concerned, if they’re playing with the pace and space and three point shooting they’ve been playing within the first two rounds, this will be a four or five game series at longest. Cleveland wins in five games.
Dave McMenamin, NBA reporter: Cleveland in 4. The Cavs are lighting it up from deep this postseason, shooting 46.2 percent on 3s. The Raptors were the second worst team in the league in defending the 3 during the regular season. There’s your series right there.
Dave Pasch, NBA & college sports play-by-play commentator: Toronto needs a lot more than [DeMar] DeRozan and [Kyle] Lowry to make this a series. Cleveland is playing better than anyone right now, plus the Cavs are the healthiest of anyone in the NBA. Cavs in 5.
Ramona Shelburne, NBA insider: I’m rolling with the Cavs in 5. They’ve changed the way they play since Tyron Lue took over, putting an emphasis on spacing, outside shooting and pace. Toronto has done well to get here, but the Cavs are playing at another level right now.
Marc Stein, NBA insider: Do the Raptors have enough gas left in the tank — and are they healthy enough — to give Cleveland similar problems to what we saw during the regular season and survive for more than five games? Instinct tells you no, but let’s see. Let’s see if the Raptors, suddenly playing with all the pressure off, can steal one of the first two games. The Cavs have faced ZERO adversity so far this postseason. They’re playing their best ball of the season, but we don’t know how they’ll react when they finally get smacked in the mouth. Cavs in 5.