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.
Click through the pages to see how the voting went.
Here's Ric Bucher's ballot:
1. Kobe (28 points): He's the best player in the series, the element the Celtics have no easy answer for. And no one has more to lose or gain by the outcome.
2. Phil vs. Doc (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.
3. 2-3-2 format (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.
4. Celtics' defense (14 points): The problem the Lakers' offense poses is that Kobe, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol are compatible; all three can have big scoring nights without impinging on one another's game.
The Celtics' defense is no mirage, but can they keep the clamps on L.A.'s big three and still have the will and energy to slow down L.A.'s run-and-gun bench mob?
5. Bench battle (13 points): The Lakers' bench was a huge factor against both San Antonio and Utah. It didn't just protect leads, it even expanded them in some games. And, in general, the subs gassed the opposition with their up-tempo, high-energy style.
Jordan Farmar, after dealing with Deron Williams and Tony Parker, should feel like a man unshackled when he faces Rajon Rondo, Sam Cassell and Eddie House.
Wild card: Hunger. Hearing Paul Pierce talking about being part of history and Kevin Garnett saying going to the Finals fulfilled a dream is all well and good -- but it just sounds too much like the Orlando Magic, circa 1995. They, too, were equipped on paper to give the Rockets a battle, but had the just-freakin'-blissed-out-to-be-here vibe, which grew into a full-blown gong after they lost the first game in the final seconds and three more quickly thereafter.
Several Lakers, meanwhile, talked about the bitter taste of losing in their last visit to the Finals, even though it was four years ago. I just don't get the sense the Lakers are the least bit satisfied, and I can't say the same for the fellas in green.