We asked 10 of our experts to rate the most important factors leading into the NBA Finals.
Each expert had 100 points to apportion among five key factors. The rules stated no factor could be worth more than 50 points or less than 10 points. Each expert named a wild-card factor as well.
Click through the pages to see how the voting went.
Here's Henry Abbott's ballot:
1. Celtics' defense (50 points): If this part of their game is a constant, then home-court advantage alone could decide things.
2. Kobe (20 points): With Tony Allen slowed and possibly out due to injury, I'm quite certain the Celtics won't be using the "beat him up all series long" approach to Kobe-stopping.
That means they likely will do what they did successfully in the regular season: protect the rim like crazy, but leave Allen out there all alone to guard Kobe. In the regular season, they turned Bryant into a long-distance shooter, and he happened to be cold. For the Lakers' sake, he can't be cold again.
If the Lakers are carving it up, however, I don't see how Boston can win.
3. Kevin Garnett (10 points): Boston doesn't rely on him for offense like the Lakers do Kobe Bryant, but he can't be a total nonfactor on that end. I like Boston a lot better when he's dunking over people's heads than when he's passing back out to a well-covered Ray Allen. It's time to strut your stuff, big man.
4. 3-point shooting (10 points): If either team has a player (e.g., Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Sasha Vujacic) heat up from downtown (I'm thinking of 5-for-7 or something similar), then between two evenly matched teams, that's likely enough to key a game-deciding run.
5. Home-court advantage (10 points): If the Lakers had home-court advantage, they would have turned the Celtics into real underdogs. But they don't. And the Lakers fans I have talked to are feeling just a little nervous about that fact. History shows home court really does matter.
Think about it this way: Would it surprise anyone if Boston won Game 1? Then how do you look at things?
Wild card: Paul Pierce's extra gear in recent big games. In Boston's two most recent closeout games, Pierce has been an MVP-quality player. I don't know what gets into him in those games, but it makes the Celtics something special. If he can bring that two or three times, Boston will win.