Roundtable: Garnett's injury, Finals predictions and more playoff talk
If Kevin Garnett is unavailable, the Celtics may not last long in the playoffs
All five writers believe the Lakers will beat the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals
Portland is viewed as a team that could have its coming-out party in the playoffs
SI.com NBA writers analyze the biggest playoff storylines and make their picks for the Finals.
1. What are the Celtics' prospects if Kevin Garnett is unavailable for the playoffs?
Ian Thomsen: They were able to stave off Orlando for the No. 2 seed without Garnett, so at the very least they're still one of the top three teams in the East. At best, they can exploit the home-court advantage to win a second-round series against the Magic, who have no latter-round experience in the playoffs. But I don't see how they'll be able to win a game or two in Cleveland's building unless Garnett miraculously returns or the Cavaliers themselves are weakened by injuries over the month ahead.
Jack McCallum: Garnett is their spiritual leader, and not just because of his over-the-top primal screaming. Playoff series are always partly about defensive schemes, figuring out how to stop a big scorer, like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, over the course of five, six or seven games. Garnett keys the Celtics' schemes, and, without him, I don't think their defense is strong enough to get them to the conference finals. If he plays, I like them to beat the Magic and give the Cavs a test before going down.
Chris Mannix: I don't see how they can win a title. Garnett was many things to this team: quarterback of the defense, top low-post presence on offense and the loudest voice on the bench and in the locker room. Without him, Boston faces a first-round dogfight with a young, explosive Bulls team that has been one of the best in the NBA in the final month of the season. A team led by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen is still dangerous, but the things they lose without Garnett are just too much to overcome.
Steve Aschburner: I thought the Celtics were going to have trouble as it was in getting Garnett back into the flow and on a diet of regular minutes. Their most valuable intangible from last year -- that sense of urgency, laced with expectations -- no longer exists. Without him, the Celtics would be undermanned inside against Cleveland and Orlando in the East and they would miss his emotional jumper cables. If Boston reached the Finals, subtracting Garnett as the hated Lakers added Andrew Bynum to last June's mix would just about cinch things, since L.A. already is the better team.
Scott Howard-Cooper: That would mean moving from contender to long shot. Garnett is the star defender and an emotional leader, and that doesn't even get into the 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. The Celtics can still beat the Bulls in the first round, but no Garnett means no real hopes for a repeat, or just getting to the Finals.
2. Who will win the NBA Finals?
Ian Thomsen: Lakers over Cavs. Given the injuries to San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Boston's Garnett, it looks as if L.A. and Cleveland are set up for a Finals between the league's top two stars. Maybe Garnett can make it back to push the Celtics past Cleveland, but how often do you hear of a happy ending after an extended and murky injury like his? I'm not picking the Lakers in a blowout -- the Cavs definitely could beat them -- but L.A. has the advantage based on Bynum's return and the promise of three playoff series for him to be fully integrated before the Finals.
Jack McCallum: Lakers over Cavs. L.A. will toy with the West, going through Utah, Houston and San Antonio without much trouble. The Cavs, meanwhile, will have a slightly more difficult path. I can see the old-pro Pistons getting a game or two in the first series, and Wade leading the Heat to at least two wins in the second round, before the Cavs beat Orlando (assuming Garnett is out) in six in the Eastern finals. In the Finals, I see the Lakers over the Cavs in six. L.A. has the avenge-last-season motivation, the defense to stop LeBron in spots, the coaching experience and a guy named Kobe.
Chris Mannix: Lakers over Cavs. The return of Bynum and news that the Celtics could be without Garnett effectively locks in the matchup many have been expecting for months. Home-court advantage definitely helps the Cavs -- if you haven't been to Quicken Loans Arena recently, think Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium -- but I don't see 18,000-plus rabid fans derailing the Lakers this time around. The Lakers' only weakness is their vulnerability against teams that punch them in the mouth and bully them, but a healthy Boston was the only club really capable of doing that.
Steve Aschburner: Lakers over Cavs. The Lakers are more battle-tested as a unit and have a more wily big-stage coach. Then there's this: Kobe will take very, very personally his duel for supremacy with LeBron, and he'll have an easier time training his laser sight on one guy rather than, last year, Boston's three.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Lakers over Cavs. The path through the East figures to be a lot more interesting than what should be a smooth ride for L.A. in a conference with the wounded Spurs, the unproven Nuggets and Trail Blazers, the fast-fading Jazz and the undependable Rockets, Hornets and Mavericks. The Lakers are not only the best team, but they also won't have to face an opponent like the Magic (my preseason pick to win the East) or Celtics (if Garnett returns and is effective) before even reaching the Finals.
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