2019 NBA playoffs conference finals picks: Warriors won't have problem against Blazers; experts split on Raptors, Bucks
Our NBA panel predicts which two teams will advance into this year's NBA Finals
The 2019 NBA playoffs are rolling along as we've now arrived at the conference finals. Just four teams remain, and over the next two weeks, they'll battle it out for one of two precious spots in the NBA Finals.
In the East, the Milwaukee Bucks continued to build on their dominant regular season by cruising through the first two rounds. They dropped just one game and registered seven double-digit wins. They'll face off against the Toronto Raptors, who needed from Kawhi Leonard in Game 7 of their second-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers to advance this far. But despite how much Toronto struggled at times in that series, a number of CBS Sports' experts are confident the Raptors have what it takes to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Out West, the Golden State Warriors advanced to the conference finals yet again, making it five straight trips for Steph Curry and Co. Their trip this time around wasn't so easy, though, as they struggled with both the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, and saw both DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant go down with injuries. Their opponent will be a familiar one, as they'll meet the Portland Trail Blazers for the third time in four postseasons. The Blazers earned their trip with a stunning 17-point comeback on the road in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets. Yet all of CBS Sports' experts fully expect this is where the Trail Blazers' run will stop.
Here's a look at the picks from all of our NBA experts for the conference finals:
Western Conference Finals
Why Golden State will advance
The Trail Blazers' run to the conference finals has been thrilling, daring, star-making and a helluva lotta fun. It's also the last stop. Though Damian Lillard has put up career highs against the Warriors during his time in the NBA, neither that massive chip on his shoulder -- nor the ascension of backcourt-mate CJ McCollum -- override a Golden State team still formidable in the extreme. Pre-Durant Steph Curry, never so much gone as hibernating, will continue the same heroics we saw in the second half against the Houston Rockets. Klay Thompson follows suit. And Draymond Green keeps up what's been a stellar 2019 postseason. The Blazers have heart and heroics, yes, but they don't have Curry, which means they don't have a chance. -- Bill Reiter
The Warriors have looked like a bizarro-world version of the 2015 Warriors ever since Kevin Durant went down. And there's a chance they'll get both Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back over the course of this series, which would give them two more All-Star weapons -- one of whom is the most dangerous weapon in the basketball universe. The only thing that can beat the Warriors is themselves -- or another big injury. Damian Lillard will have himself a standout game or two, which is the only reason this is a sweep of the gentleman's variety instead of just a straight sweep. -- Reid Forgrave
Get ready to watch Enes Kanter try to contain Stephen Curry pick-and-rolls! (It feels pointless to say too much about this matchup without knowing Kevin Durant's status, but if he's out for a while I can see Portland's offense being good enough to get a couple of close wins.) -- James Herbert
Kevin Durant could well be out until Game 4, maybe even Game 5, and that's enough time for the Blazers to get at least one game. And they can beat the Warriors with Durant, as well. They did it twice in the regular season, though admittedly that means very little. Personally, I think the Warriors are too prideful to blitz and double Damian Lillard the way he deserves to be, and he'll get scorching hot a couple times. So will CJ McCollum, who will see a ton of single coverage as well. The Warriors are going to win, but it's not going to be a cakewalk. Truth be told, Portland is a better team than Houston right now, and Lillard is a more trustworthy player in the playoffs than James Harden. -- Brad Botkin
We continue to underestimate the Portland Trail Blazers, and they continue to prove us wrong ... yet, here we are. It's just too difficult to imagine a world in which the Blazers can topple the mighty Warriors, even without the services of Kevin Durant. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum capable of getting red-hot in any given game, the Blazers could win one in the series, but overall Golden State's talent, experience and determination will help it make short work of the pesky Blazers. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Even if Kevin Durant ends up being ruled out for most of the series, the Warriors are just too talented and experienced for the Trail Blazers. As great as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are, they're ultimately a second-tier version of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. -- Jack Maloney
Two of the league's top backcourt duos match up against one another as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson go head-to-head against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. With Kevin Durant likely out for multiple games in this series, the Blazers will have an opportunity to exact revenge over the team that eliminated them in the playoffs in 2016 and 2017. Because the Blazers can match the Warriors with their 3-point shooting, this series will go the distance. But the Warriors will ultimately come out on top -- as they always do in these types of tight series. Don't be surprised if Durant returns before the end of the Western Conference finals. -- DJ Siddiqi
This is a tough series to forecast considering it's unclear if Kevin Durant or DeMarcus Cousins will return at any point. However, the Warriors still have the firepower to get the job done with the core group of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been sensational and should propel the Blazers to a few wins, but it's not going to be enough. -- Chris Bengel
The Blazers were finally able to advance all the way to the Western Conference finals, but unfortunately for them, that is where their run will end. Despite their ongoing injury issues, the Warriors still boast the game's best backcourt in Curry and Thompson, and arguably the best player in the game in Kevin Durant, when he's healthy, and appear poised to make their fifth straight Finals appearance. Golden State just has too many weapons for the Blazers to contend with, and after vanquishing the Rockets in six games, they have added confidence and momentum. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Eastern Conference Finals
Why Milwaukee will advance
The Raptors were lucky -- four-bounce lucky -- to escape a Game 7 against an equally-off Philadelphia 76ers offense. The luck stops here. Giannis is the MVP, Mike Budenholzer is the Coach of the Year, Milwaukee's home-court advantage weights heavily and Malcolm Brogdon, who this regular season became the eighth-ever member of the 50-40-90 club, swings a good series into a dominating one. Serge Ibaka was the quiet hero for Toronto last round, but against Milwaukee he and his teammates don't have the benefit of an over-matched head coach, a hot-and-then-cold would-be star who can't shoot, Joel Embiid's myriad of illnesses and aches, nor an opponent that'll lose its cool come crunch time. Milwaukee has been consistently great all season long, and that greatness continues here. -- Reiter
The Bucks are way more balanced and deep. They have more shooting. They are better defensively. They are more versatile. They have the home-court advantage. They have Giannis Freaking Antetokounmpo. Even if Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the series, which I believe he is by a smidge, the Bucks are just too much. -- Botkin
This is the first series where the Bucks won't clearly have the best player on the floor, but even if Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard essentially play to a draw, the Bucks have a better, more consistent supporting cast and far more shooting. -- Maloney
Kawhi Leonard will keep the Raptors very competitive in this series, but the Bucks might just be the favorites to win it all now with Kevin Durant's injury. What will ultimately dictate this series is not Giannis Antetokounmpo against Kawhi -- it's the fact that the Bucks' supporting cast will step up and the Raptors' supporting core won't. -- Siddiqi
The Bucks and Raptors were the two top teams in the East all season, and now they will get an opportunity to show who reigns supreme. Though the series should be a battle, ultimately the Bucks will get the job done as they have a better cast surrounding their superstar than the Raptors do. Kawhi Leonard had to beat the Sixers basically single-handedly in the second round, while Giannis Antetokounmpo has guys like Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe to help him out. -- Kaskey-Blomain
Why Toronto will advance
The Bucks are the better team. They have been all season. So why pick the Raptors? Stubbornness, I suppose, is at least part of it, since the Raptors are the team I picked at the beginning of the season and the beginning of the playoffs to win the East. This is a battle of perhaps the two most well-balanced teams in the NBA. During the regular season, the Bucks ranked fourth in offensive rating and first in defensive rating; the Raptors ranked fifth in offense and defense. The difference is that the Raptors have been pacing themselves for this moment since Day One. This was a team built for the playoffs more than the regular season. Their extra-cautious approach with Kawhi Leonard -- he played only 60 games during the regular season -- was all leading to this moment, where he hopefully has the energy left to go against the colossus that is Giannis and the Bucks. The Marc Gasol trade was made with the postseason in mind. The Raptors will certainly need a more consistent series from their non-Kawhi starters than they got against the Sixers. But they can pull off this upset. -- Forgrave
The Bucks should be the favorites based on their regular-season track record, their home-court advantage and their much more convincing second-round victory. I'm going with the Raptors, though, partially because I don't want to back down from the prediction I made a month ago and partially because their defense against Philadelphia suggested they might actually be able to make Milwaukee uncomfortable for longer than the one game Boston managed it. -- Herbert
Before the playoffs started I picked the Raptors to go to the NBA Finals, so I can't go back on it now -- though I'm not exactly confident. The Raptors have the defensive versatility to deal with the Bucks' potent attack, and while they don't have an answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo -- no one does -- they can at least bother him and try to limit the supplemental scorers. Offensively they'll struggle, but they proved against the 76ers that they can win ugly. In the end, I don't want to be the one to bet against Kawhi. -- Ward-Henninger
The Bucks had the NBA's best record during the regular season and breezes through the first two rounds of the playoffs. However, the Bucks haven't had to deal with a player of Kawhi Leonard's caliber. While Milwaukee has more depth, Toronto can get enough production from their supporting cast to take the series. -- Bengel
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