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Staff Roundtable: Cavs vs. Celtics series preview

To help prepare for the Eastern Conference Finals, we got together to answer some quick questions about the Celtics

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Media Day Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start things off with the rest vs. rust debate. The Cavs were a little sloppy to start game one against Toronto after a long layoff. Obviously it’s much better alternative than one day off after a seven game series, but do you have any concern regarding the Cavs layoff?

Dylan Haines: I have much more optimism about the long layoff for the Cavs than I do reasons for concern. All season long, we’ve talked about how the regular season didn’t really matter to this team and how rest should be a priority. Well, LeBron James has played in eight games since April 10, so mission accomplished there. While there are concerns they could come out rusty against Boston like they did against Toronto, the team has kept busy and likely have a gameplan already in place on how they want to attack Boston on both ends, and they matchup extremely well with them as well. I think they’ll be alright.

Trevor Magnotti: Sure, they may be a little sloppy in the first half of Game 1. But rarely does this have a lasting impact on the series. By halftime of Game 1 against Toronto, they were clicking and finding lasting ways to attack the Raptors offensively. They had things going by the end of quarter one against the Hawks last year. Even if they struggle to start the first game against Boston, I think they’ll find their legs quick enough for it to not make a deciding change to the series outcome.

Alex Raulli: I’ve never really understood the ‘rust’ argument. Sure, it may take a quarter or two to get dialed in to game speed again. But the advantages of rest far outweigh any rust that might develop in my opinion, and all the more so with a team as old as the Cavs. I expect them to look energized in contrast to a Boston team that just played game seven against Washington two days prior.

Justin Rowan: Maybe for the first quarter or so, but this team needed rest and practice more than anything an Eastern Conference team would give them in a series.

Ryan Mourton: After two years of sweeps? No.

Aaron Perine: No, not really. It would be a little strange, but I think they saw what happened to the Warriors on Sunday and will not be in any hurry to duplicate that showing. Still, it will be interesting if they come out a bit off-kilter because this one will be on the road. Will still probably be a grind-it-out game to be sure.

Mike Zavagno:

Zack Geoghegan: I wouldn’t be surprised if they started off a little bit rusty but it isn’t something I expect to last for more than a quarter; that long of a break can do that to any team. The Cavs are going to be gunning for a sweep and as much rest as possible, so once the reality of the situation kicks in, they’ll take over. The Celtics should be exhausted and the Cavs will quickly take advantage.

Is there anything the Celtics bring to the table that concerns you?

DH: The Celtics have a fairly deep squad and have been getting big contributions from unlikely sources, a formula for success in the postseason. Players such as Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley have been consistently good, Al Horford has looked fantastic (64/58/78 shooting splits this postseason), and Isaiah Thomas has carried the load offensively. With all that being said, nothing they present really concerns me that deeply. The Cavs matchup really well with them at nearly every position, and they have LeBron James. Meanwhile, the Celtics do not. That will not help their chances.

TM: My one concern is Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart against J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver. The Cavs are going to want to get both going off screens, and that usually is enough to weaken perimeter defenders over time. Against those two, however, I don’t think Cleveland will have the same success. Bradley’s very adept at navigating screens and affecting shots with his length, and Smart seems to treat fighting over a screen like getting a magic mushroom in Mario. I think it makes him more powerful and pit bull-esque. I have legitimate concerns about how the Cavs’ wings get consistent open shots when battling these two.

AR: Isaiah Thomas is really good at basketball. He’s a one-man offense, a guy capable of breaking a defensive scheme designed to stop him. In any given game he could go off and make it a challenge for the Cavs to win.

JR: Dirty play. That’s really it.

RM: Having Kelly Olynyk near the limbs of Cavs players is certainly concerning, but otherwise, not really. IT can go off, but you’re playing favorable odds with everyone else.

AP: There is a bit of a try-hard nature that seems to have taken a hold of this team. That may be a “narrative” thing, but the effort they have displayed this postseason at home has been admirable. Still, IT isn’t getting any taller and it will be hard for the C’s to just pin their hopes on amazing fourth quarters from him the entire series. He’s been through the ringer (heh) this postseason and the mileage and emotional toll will be hard to overcome. Still, he remains their best player and will likely be the biggest worry for Cleveland.

ZG: The backcourt, I guess? But even if Thomas averages 40 throughout the series they still won’t take more than one game.

When you look at this series, what would you describe as the biggest X-factor?

DH: How the Celtics play against mismatches will go a long way in determining the length of this series. No defender on the planet can stop LeBron, but the best strategy the Celtics could employ against him would be the one utilized by the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. That team knew they had no one to check LeBron, so they just threw as many bodies at him as they could. The Celtics are deep on the wing and a similar strategy may be their only hope of slowing him down. To make matters worse for them, Isaiah Thomas might be the worst defensive player in the league, and he’s going against Kyrie Irving (they’ll probably try to assign Avery Bradley/Marcus Smart to him, but the Cavs will find a way to attack Thomas defensively). Also, Tristan Thompson is matched up once again with Al Horford, who we all know consistently takes his lunch money in the postseason. Oh, and the Celtics have no one that can really guard Kevin Love, either.

TM: As with every series the Cavs have played against him, it’s Al Horford. In two series so far, Horford has gotten outplayed to a hilarious degree by Tristan Thompson, particularly on the glass and at the rim. He offers minimal rim protection and hasn’t proven to create enough of a consistent outside threat to really stress the Cavs’ defense. He has to raise his game to a higher level to give the Cavs issues, because if not, the Cavs are just going to attack the rim endlessly.

AR: Kevin Love. He’s struggled so far this postseason, aside from a brilliant game 2 against Indiana. But this series sets up very well for him to make a big impact both on the boards and as a scorer. If he averages something like 18 and 11 then I think the Cavs sweep relatively easily.

JR: The battle between Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. Irving hasn’t been outplayed by an opposing point guard for a series in his career. If that streak stays alive against the Celtics, they have no chance in even extending this series.

RM: LeBron making jumpshots makes the Cavs unguardable. He keeps hitting 40-plus percent on threes, the rest is a formality.

AP: For Boston: Will the Celtics keep getting contributions from the “other dudes”? Jaylen Brown played a lot down the stretch of Game 7, Terry Rozier (shout out to my fellow Shaker Heights Red Raider!) has been fantastic this postseason, Gerald Green has started at points in the postseason. All of that sounds like a bit of high-wire act to me. If they can’t give quality minutes, then Cleveland might just be too much for them to handle.

ZG: Attacking the rim and exposing the Celtic bigs. If the Cavs can get past the initial backcourt defense, there isn’t a real threat to stop them from there, especially with Kyrie’s finishing ability.