NBA Playoffs 2018: Conference finals predictions for Warriors vs. Rockets, Cavaliers vs. Celtics

The conference finals are well underway, which means we're getting closer to the NBA Finals. Much to the surprise of many, the  second-seeded Boston Celtics have grabbed a 2-0 lead over LeBron James and the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. In the West, the No. 1 Rockets and No. 2 Warriors are even at 1-1 in what has the making of an instant classic.

Can Boston hang on for a shocking Finals berth, or can LeBron find a way to lead his team back? How will the Warriors respond after receiving a thorough beating in Game 2? 

The conference finals are filled with plenty of intrigue. How will our panel of experts fare with their predictions? All picks were made before the conference finals began.

Igor Mello/CBS Sports

Here are your CBS Sports expert picks for the Western Conference finals:

No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 2 Golden State Warriors

Playoff series preview

Reid Forgrave: This will be a close series. Split the first two in Houston; split the next two in Golden State; then the Warriors will win in Houston and then close out at home. The Warriors have had an up-and-down (for them) season due to injuries, but it finally feels like things are clicking. And when things are clicking for the Warriors, they're close to unbeatable. Prediction: Warriors in 6.

Brad Botkin: The Warriors are really clicking right now, and if they had home-court advantage, I'd take them in six. But the series starts in Houston so I'll say it goes seven. This should be an incredible series, particularly if both teams find their typical 3-point form, which they haven't been able to do to the point. Stephen Curry looks healthy and had a great Game 5 against New Orleans to send them into the conference finals on a good note. Draymond Green is back to dominating. But Kevin Durant is the difference here. We'll go back and forth, but in the end, Durant can get his shot whenever he needs to, and that will put Golden State over the top down the stretch of games and ultimately in this series. Prediction: Warriors in 7.

James Herbert: I can't bring myself to pick against a team that I think has the best roster ever assembled. That said, the Rockets have the best statistical profile of any team Golden State has faced in the Steve Kerr era and they have a small army of elite defenders to throw at Kevin Durant. If Stephen Curry isn't quite himself or the Warriors' turnover issues appear at the wrong time, this is the rare opponent that can actually punish them. Prediction: Warriors in 7.

Colin Ward-Henninger: I want to believe in the Rockets -- I really do. Maybe I'm biased from watching the Warriors in person this postseason, but it's hard for me to see any team beating them. The Rockets are much improved this season, but so were the Raptors when they were brutally swept yet again by the Cavs. It may not be fair, but I can't believe it from Houston until I see it. The Warriors are the better team, and they come in as healthy and energetic as they've been all season, so as much as I'd like the Rockets to give them a real challenge, I'm just not sure that's how it will play out. Prediction: Warriors in 6.

Jack Maloney: The Rockets are a really strong team. Their offense is as powerful as ever, they quietly built an elite defense and they have two true stars in the backcourt. But they aren't as good as the Warriors. With Steph Curry healthy, the Warriors are just too good, too talented. The Rockets will probably put up their best fight, but I just don't see anyone in the league beating this Warriors team four times. Prediction: Warriors in 6.

Chris Barnewall: The Rockets have been incredible. Chris Paul is finally in the conference finals. James Harden is the likely league MVP. The defense is legitimate. I really want to pick them to win this series, but the Warriors have done nothing to show why they shouldn't still be considered the favorite to repeat as champions. They're still the greatest collection of talent we've ever seen put together on a roster. They still have Kevin Durant. Steph Curry is healthy. The Warriors don't have to prove anything to anybody. It's up to the Rockets to prove us all wrong. Prediction: Warriors in 7.

Kyle Boone: Golden State coasted through most of the regular season but has noticeably turned its intensity up a notch in the postseason. And while I'm impressed with its run through the West, I'm hesitant about teams trying to switch to another gear for the playoffs. Especially for Golden State, which faces a Houston team that has been the best in the NBA all season. Its two stars, Chris Paul and James Harden, are hitting their stride at a perfect time. Meanwhile, Curry still doesn't look to be his old self, and the Rockets' home-court advantage is a big boon for an underdog looking to complete a conference finals upset. Prediction: Rockets in 6.

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Playoff series preview

Reid Forgrave: The Celtics are the ultimate overachieving team, but I believe the hamstring that's slowing down Jaylen Brown will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. There's just been too much adversity for this team to overcome, especially with LeBron having perhaps the best playoffs of his career, and with his supporting cast finally deciding to show up. It'll be a rock fight, like Brad Stevens wants, but LeBron will ultimately impose his will. Prediction: Cavs in 6.

Brad Botkin: Color me clueless on this one, but if I have to err, I'm going to err on the side of LeBron James. I've gone back and forth on this Cavs team all year. I picked them to go to the Finals to start the playoffs, then went back on that and picked the Raptors (oops) in six. It's clear if I picked the Raptors you cannot listen to a word I say, and indeed, I have zero confidence in picking this series. I think it is a complete toss-up. How's that for analysis? Prediction: Cavs in 6.

James Herbert: The Celtics' defense is better than the Pacers, but the Cavs' offense is better than it was a couple of weeks ago, with Kevin Love and George Hill healthy. I'll split the difference, then, and predict Cleveland will advance in a close series. (Alternative explanation: I am tempted to take Boston because I think it can learn from what Indiana did and Toronto didn't do, but I just can't pick against LeBron again.) Prediction: Cavs in 6.

Colin Ward-Henninger: As crazy it is to pick against LeBron James, I've just fallen in love with this Celtics team over the past few months. The name of the game is defense for Boston -- look how much trouble the Cavs had with Indiana, and the Celtics have an infinitely better defense. Their main question is if they can keep up offensively, but Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are playing with so much confidence that I trust them even against an improved Cavs defense. Sure, LeBron will win a game or two on his own, but over the course of a long series, with home-court advantage and Brad Stevens calling the shots, I have to give the edge to what I feel is the better team -- and that's the Boston Celtics. Prediction: Celtics in 7.

Jack Maloney: I really do believe the Celtics have a chance in this series, and they will certainly make the Cavaliers work. Unfortunately for Boston, they don't have LeBron James, which is often what things come down to in the Eastern Conference playoffs. As he's shown at various points in the first two rounds, there are certain times where there is just nothing you can do to slow him down. I haven't picked against LeBron in the playoffs in the past few years, and I don't see a reason to start doing so now. Prediction: Cavs in 6.

Kyle Boone: The Celtics' unlikely run to the Eastern Conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward has been nothing short of miracle work by Brad Stevens. But eventually, that lack of star power is bound to catch up with them -- and I think that run ends against the LeBron-led Cavaliers, who are fresh off a sweep of the first-seeded Raptors and riding one of the best postseason runs of James' career. Prediction: Cavs in 6.

Chris Barnewall: The reason why we doubted the Cavs in the second round was because of the health of Kevin Love and George Hill. Now that Love can make a layup, and Hill's back seems to be fine, there's little reason to doubt their ability to reach another NBA Finals. LeBron James is incredible. Never doubt him. I learned that lesson the hard way.  Prediction: Cavs in 5.

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