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.
3-point shooting (61 points)
Jalen Rose (15 points): Both of these squads need outside shooting to open up the floor for their go-to guys to operate.
David Thorpe (15 points): This is either the big equalizer or the blowout factor.
Both teams have enough matchup advantages to create open shots for their second and third options. Poor shooting from deep could be a death blow to either team in any game.
The team that can make 3s in transition gets an added bonus of creating easier shots inside in its early offense.
Tim Legler (11 points): It is absolutely critical that the Lakers' marksmen find the range in order to make the Celts pay for focusing on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers are a sensational passing team. They must find Derek Fisher, Vladimir Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar when Boston overloads one side of the floor. And once they do, these shooters need to deliver.
Henry Abbott (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.
Chris Broussard (10 points): The Lakers have been very strong from beyond the arc in the playoffs. That, combined with Kobe's brilliance and the interior passing and scoring of Pau and Lamar Odom, makes the Lakers virtually unbeatable. Boston's going to have to keep LA from being so effective from 3. Plus, on the other end, Ray Allen will need to be hot from deep.
Ray Allen (41 points)
John Hollinger (23 points): We know what to expect from Kevin Garnett and Paul Piece in this series, but we don't have a clue what to expect from Allen.
Maybe he shoots the lights out and gives Boston a much-needed third scorer; maybe he shoots bricks and gets pulled for James Posey or Tony Allen in crunch time.
Chris Broussard (18 points): Every member of Boston's big three has to be on top of his game for the Celtics to win. When one-third of San Antonio's big three (Manu) stumbled, the Spurs lacked the firepower to keep up with L.A. despite big numbers from Tim Duncan and solid ones from Tony Parker. Ray's J will need to fall frequently for Boston to win four games.
2-3-2 format (38 points)
Chris Sheridan (20 points): Game 5 is usually the key game of any series, unless it goes seven, and it's an unfair advantage to the Lakers to have that game in their building -- especially if it's 2-2 going in.
That's why I think Boston needs to open 2-0 to have any chance to win the title.
Ric Bucher (18 points): Having won in Utah and San Antonio, the Lakers are thrilled that all they have to do is win one in Boston to entertain the thought of finishing the series in L.A. -- or, more precisely, against the Celtics' road persona, which is starkly different than their home one.
Phil vs. Doc (47 points)
Ric Bucher (27 points): The Zen Master is making his 11th Finals coaching appearance and has lost only once. That alone gives him a major edge in what to look for among his players and how to prepare them for the league's biggest stage.
Then add that he has a far more versatile roster, which he has utilized all season long -- regular and postseason -- like Emerson working a synthesizer, and it's hardly a fair fight.
John Hollinger (10 points): The Zen Master's ability in these situations is unquestioned; suffice it to say that Doc's isn't. With Boston an underdog already, Rivers can't be overmatched on the chessboard.
The good omen was that he played nearly all the right cards against Detroit, though my pleas for more Leon Powe still fall on deaf ears.
Jalen Rose (10 points): Championship level of execution and intangibles will be critical for both teams. These two maestros will be the conductors.
Celtics' offense (21 points)
David Thorpe (21 points): The Lakers have great size and length inside, making it tough to finish down low. So the Celtics have to make lots of open shots -- and some contested shots, too -- while limiting their turnovers.
This is the best offense the Celtics' D has faced in some time, so the Boston offense needs to keep pace as much as possible.
Lakers' offense (19 points)
David Thorpe (19 points): The Kobe factor will guarantee open shots, which the Lakers must recognize and hit with some consistency. Taking the first good look is a key against this defense, as a second good look rarely comes in time.
Finding ways to score in transition and on second shots inside also will help their confidence -- the absence of such points will embolden the Celtics while deflating the Lakers' shooters.
Lamar Odom (27 points)
Marc Stein (15 points): Gotta throw Pau in here, too. Because the Lakers are a true nightmare when Kobe's chief wingmen are playing well. If Odom and Gasol adapt quickly to playing on the big stage of the Finals, Boston's problems multiply immediately.
Chris Broussard (12 points): I know what I'm getting from Kobe, and to a large extent, Pau. What is Odom going to give me? He has to be big on the backboards to keep L.A. from getting crushed on the glass, and he has to be aggressive offensively. He should take advantage of anyone who guards him who is not named KG.
Kevin Garnett (20 points)
Henry Abbott (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.
J.A. Adande (10 points): When "Night Court" first came on, Bull the bailiff seemed really intimidating. When you caught the reruns in syndication, you realized how goofy and harmless a big man he really was.
That's often been the difference between KG in the first three quarters and KG in the fourth. But he could be only four ferocious fourth quarters away from forever altering his reputation.
Pau Gasol (15 points)
John Hollinger (15 points): How Gasol fares against Kendrick Perkins is likely to dictate how Boston lines up in crunch time.
If he's too quick for Perkins, then Doc Rivers likely goes small and puts Garnett on Gasol. But if Perk can frustrate Pau with his physicality, then Boston can play its preferred big lineup and potentially dominate the glass.
Officiating (10 points)
Chris Sheridan (10 points): I'd rather this wasn't a factor, but it has been the past two years.
Last June, it was the non-call when Bruce Bowen fouled LeBron on a 3-point attempt at the end of Game 3 -- I still can't believe LBJ didn't get that call in his own building.
The year before, it was Dwyane Wade's free throws at the end of Game 5.