Predicting the East finals: Best player, better coach and who will win?

The first three games of the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics have given us enough comebacks, drama, coaching adjustments and big plays to live up to expectations and then some.

So what comes next?

We asked our NBA forecast panel to assess the series and look ahead: Who’s the best player? Which coach do you have more faith in: Erik Spoelstra or Brad Stevens? Who will win the East title? And which East team has the brightest future?

Here is how our panel sees it.

WATCH: Game 4, Wed., 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN App


Who is the best player in the East finals?

Photo finish here, but our panel gives Celtics forward Jayson Tatum the nod over Heat swingman Jimmy Butler. Both players were named to the All-NBA third team last week, with Tatum likewise edging Butler among the voters.

Voters ranked their top three.

Results:

Also receiving votes: Goran Dragic (9 points), Marcus Smart (6), Kemba Walker (1).

MORE: The potential of Jayson Tatum

Which coach do you trust more in this series?

Both coaches have elite reputations, and both have winning career records in the regular season and the playoffs. But for this series, our panel showed a preference for the one who has won two championships as a head coach: Erik Spoelstra, who this season has led a surprising renaissance for Miami.

Meanwhile, Brad Stevens has the Celtics in the East finals for the third time in four years and three wins from Boston’s first NBA Finals trip in a decade.

Results:

  • Erik Spoelstra: 83%

  • Brad Stevens: 17%

MORE: Miami’s incredible turnaround, from lottery to East finals

Which team will win Game 4?

Boston is the pick here after the Celtics seemed to figure out how to attack Miami’s zone defense in Game 3.

Then again, the Heat are 10-2 in the postseason and have yet to lose two games in a row.

Results:

  • Boston Celtics: 70%

  • Miami Heat: 30%

MORE: Zach Lowe on how the Celtics survive the Heat

Which team will win the series?

With a 2-1 lead in the series, Miami holds the upper hand, and most of our panelists expect the Heat to advance to the NBA Finals, with 37% predicting them to win in six games and another 20% picking the Heat in seven.

But if the series does go to Game 7, the advantage swings back to the Celtics, according to our panel, with 37% forecasting “Celtics in 7.”

That tells you a lot about the importance of Game 4.

Results:

MORE: Miami made the Jimmy Butler gamble Chicago never could

Which team would have the better chance to beat the Lakers or Nuggets in the NBA Finals?

In the Western Conference finals, the Los Angeles Lakers remain favored to advance, though the Denver Nuggets won Tuesday’s Game 3 to make the series more interesting.

When it comes to which team would match up best with the West champs, it’s a tight race for our panel — another sign of how closely matched the Heat and Celtics appear to be.

Results:

  • Boston Celtics: 53%

  • Miami Heat: 47%

MORE: How to stop LeBron in the playoffs

Which Eastern Conference team has the brightest future?

Boston is led by Tatum at age 22 and Brown at age 23, and our panel sees good things ahead for the Celtics. But the Heat have youth on their side too: Adebayo is 23 and rookie Tyler Herro is just 20.

Our panel is also intrigued by a completely different sort of team, the Nets, who will be led next season by veteran superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving upon their return to health.

Voters ranked their top three.

Results:

Also receiving votes: Toronto Raptors (7 points), Philadelphia 76ers (1), Atlanta Hawks (1).

MORE: Jaylen Brown is a player for this moment

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