NBA Playoffs Preview: Cavaliers take on Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals

CLEVELAND - The Celtics are heading to the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home court advantage. But they are still very much underdogs to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

That’s because throughout this season the conversation hasn’t so much been about which team would come out of the East, as much as how much resistance any team could offer the Cavs.

So far it hasn’t been much, with Cleveland posting back-to-back sweeps in the first two rounds.

Boston has yet to beat the Cavs this season with Cleveland at full strength. The Celtics’ lone victory came on March 1, with Kevin Love out after minor left knee surgery. Cleveland won the other games by a combined 35 points, including a 114-91 romp on April 5.

Still, James respects not only the Celtics, but also their hallowed history.

“There’s only two winningest franchises in the history of the game, the Lakers and the Celtics,” James said. “Just respect that and look out up in the stands and see the banners, see the jerseys retired and things of that nature. You respect what the history has created at that point.”

No. 1 BOSTON CELTICS (53-29, 8-5) vs. No. 2 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (51-31, 8-0)

Season series: Cavaliers, 3-1. Cleveland rang up 116.3 points per game against Boston, led by 29.3 per game from LeBron James. The first three games were decided by six or fewer before the Cavaliers rolled to a 114-91 victory in Boston on April 5, a win that at the time had the defending champions in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage. 

But the Celtics did manage to rebound and earn the top seed in the East. Isaiah Thomas averaged 29.5 points for the Celtics vs. the Cavaliers.

Story line: Powering to a pair of sweeps in the first two rounds, the Cavaliers meet a Celtics team that had to go the distance against Washington to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012.

James is in this round for the seventh straight time, having last been stopped short of the NBA’s final four when the Celtics beat the Cavs in the 2010 East semifinals.

Key Matchup: Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk vs. Kevin Love. Love has averaged a quiet 13.8 points in the postseason but should be eager to pick it up against a Celtics team that knocked him out of the 2015 playoffs when he became tangled with Olynyk and dislocated his shoulder. Horford is averaging 16.1 points on 64 percent shooting, while Olynyk scored a playoff career-high 26 in the Game 7 clincher Monday.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5.

Compiled by AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney