5-on-5: Key questions on Bulls, C's, Heat

Five ESPN.com writers hit five of the hottest topics in the NBA

Originally Published: April 11, 2011
ESPN.com

LeBron James and Paul PierceMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAre we just three weeks away from our third LBJ-Pierce playoff faceoff in the past four seasons?

It's time for a little 5-on-5, our writer roundtable featuring five voices on five hot questions.

Today we touch on the Eastern Conference leaders. Are the Boston Celtics toast? Can the Chicago Bulls be beaten? And are the Miami Heat for real?

Check it out and come back to ESPN.com for more 5-on-5.

1. Agree/disagree: The Celtics are washed up.


Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Disagree. Don't fall for the rope-a-dope. We've seen this late-season mediocrity before. Boston played .500 ball down the stretch last season, got hot in the playoffs and made it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. These Celtics are more vulnerable and no longer the big, bad bully. But as long as they have Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, they're very dangerous.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Disagree. The Celtics are a lot of things right now. Frustrated. Slumping. Discombobulated. Lacking confidence. Take your pick. Washed up isn't on that list, however. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are posting some of the best numbers of their careers. Those guys and their advanced ages are not among the team's main issues.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Agree! Their arthritic play of late is all the proof I need to know that Boston won't return to the NBA Finals. Then again, they could be playing exceptionally convincing possum and might just as easily rebound to represent the East. Emphasis on rebound: They need to do more of that.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Disagree. They certainly look like they have lost their edge, but they limped to the finish line at the end of the regular season last year. This team has talent, depth and championship experience. They shouldn't be counted out until they lose the fourth game of a series.

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Agree. I remember getting slapped around for saying the same thing a year ago. Since then, though, they have added two mighty new East rivals; aged; and traded their starting center for pennies on the dollar.


2. Agree/disagree: The Celtics or Bulls will beat the Heat in the playoffs.


Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Disagree, to an extent. If the Heat get taken out, it will be by the Bulls or Celtics. No other team in the East has what it takes. But I picked the Heat at the start of the season to get to the Finals, and I see no reason to bail. If Miami holds that No. 2 seed, they'll get past Boston. And Chicago, too.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Agree. Both teams are highly capable of dispatching LeBron and company. The Bulls are the better bet to get the job done, but to me, the Heat have too many flaws on their roster beyond their big three to make it to the NBA Finals. They'll get there eventually with improved supporting pieces, just not this season.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Disagree. I think the Heat will get to the NBA Finals. Wade and James in playoff mode will be too much to handle, but only if they continue to trust their teammates and system when the going gets tough. What makes me hesitate most is that to unlock Chicago's strong side pressure defense, the Heat will need Chris Bosh to step up.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: I apologize, but I have no idea. Miami would definitely be the favorites in a Boston series, but a Chicago series is very tough to call. The Heat are better than the Bulls when both teams are playing their "A" game, but the Heat play their B through D game a lot more frequently than the Bulls do.

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Agree, but because I like the idea of picking the field (especially when the field includes teams as potent as the stinkin' Bulls and Celtics) -- and not because I believe the Heat are somehow doomed.


3. Agree/disagree: The Bulls are the NBA's team to beat this postseason.


Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Agree, in a way. The Bulls have earned top dog status in the East. They smothered both Boston and Miami in the regular season. But the playoffs are a different animal. It's a different kind of pressure. They're no longer the nice little story they've been all season. They're the hunted. And they lack the postseason success and experience of the Celtics and Heat.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Disagree. The Bulls are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, but they can't dethrone the two-time defending champions Lakers just yet for that tagline. With that said, I'm probably giving the Lakers too much benefit of the doubt here -- but they've earned that as this juncture.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Disagree. The Bulls should probably be the favorites, but they aren't the team to beat -- the Lakers still hold that belt. Despite L.A.'s recent slump, both teams deserve the hype. Los Angeles is the two-time defending champion, and the Bulls are this season's defensive champions -- both titles augur well for the postseason.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Disagree. The Lakers have a better mix of talent and championship experience than other teams, and they were an absolute juggernaut until they ran out of things to play for. They know how to play playoff basketball, and they're the champs until someone beats them.

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Disagree. They're playing the best, but despite everything, I doubt there's a more feared opponent than the Lakers, no matter what kind of winning or losing streak a team may have.


4. Agree/disagree: LeBron James advanced his MVP case on Sunday.


James

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Disagree. LeBron brought a toughness and swagger to Sunday's breakthrough victory that have been missing in Miami's earlier meetings with Boston. He was equally dominant and aggressive on defense and offense. But this MVP debate is over. LeBron has two things going against him: D-Wade's comparable impact and D-Rose sitting ahead of them both in the East standings.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Strongly disagree. No offense to LeBron, but that was a team win over an out-of-sync Boston squad on Sunday. His effort in that contest isn't one that strengthens an MVP case, unlike Derrick Rose's monster game against Orlando. James is a top-five MVP candidate, but he's not even the clear-cut MVP on his own team.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: What MVP case? LeBron James participated in a pep rally on local TV for his new fans, so he could never be the league's most valuable player. Even if he's the best player on both ends almost every night.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Relative to zero? Yes. He reminded everybody how many ways he can take over a game, and he did it in a big game. Relative to Derrick Rose? No. Rose's 39-point explosion (in a game that Dwight Howard missed due to suspension) made the MVP award a foregone conclusion.

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Agree, and with that I bet he went from 4 percent likely to win up to 5 percent. The electorate has been in "who do we have besides LeBron?" mode all season.


5. Agree/disagree: The Heat are who we thought they were.


Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Disagree. Depends on your "we" group. There's the "we" who will never give Miami credit for persevering through scrutiny and adversity to emerge a legitimate title contender. And there's the "we" who see no flaws despite the lack of depth and other issues. But Miami can't fairly be judged until "we" all see how far they go in the postseason.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Agree. That is, if you thought the Heat were an overhyped, talented, but ultimately vulnerable team. They've shown flashes of greatness as well as several chinks in their armor over the season. Sunday's big win over Boston, though impressive on paper, does little to change that body of work as a team that can and will be beaten this postseason.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Disagree. I thought the Heat would have a healthy Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem the whole season, and who predicted Mike Bibby would be their starting point guard going into the playoffs? The big three has spent more time stopping leaks than growing together, but Wade and LeBron have, for the most part, been as self-advertised.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: The Heat just beat the Celtics because they had superior point guard play, superior center play, more effort, more defensive intensity, better depth and a clearer sense of identity. If the Heat are who we thought they were, the Celtics definitely aren't.

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Disagree. The big three are who we thought they were, but who thought they'd get just about nothing from Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller combined?

Michael Wallace covers the Miami Heat and the NBA for ESPN.com. Henry Abbott writes TrueHoop. John Krolik, Beckley Mason and Brian Robb are writers for the TrueHoop Network.