Tonight the NBA Championship Series begins. The Lakers and the Celtics, old foes who have not been on top recently, are ready to do battle before the entire world. It’s a story with all of the right characters—from the sage coach (Phil Jackson) to the cagey veteran (Kevin Garnett) to the most talented player since Michael Jordan displaying his incredible skills (Kobe, of course!)
When Los Angeles defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the West finals, Lakers fans were heard chanting: “Bring on the Celtics!” Boston knocked off the Detroit Pistons in six games to make all those wishes come true.
In the end, after a very tough and physical series, I believe that the Lakers will win it in 7. Both teams will be victorious on the road through the first six games, but then the Lakers will do it twice to capture the crown.
Both Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics fans have been anticipating a final showdown between their two teams. The NBA and the media are just as excited. It’s big-name marquee basketball and it’s creating electricity throughout the country.
According to their regular season records, and head to head match-ups, the Celtics are favored to win the series. Boston was the best team in basketball this year and no one will argue that. But, they limped through the playoffs and showed that they can be beaten.
If we are talking about the Lakers, it is a no-brainer that they win the battle at shooting guard. Kobe Bryant is the best there is in the NBA. The comparisons with Michael Jordan are beginning to reach new heights. He simply is the best closer in the game right now. A deadly weapon that was able to single handedly elevate the Lakers from a 20 and a 17 point deficit in the conference finals.
On the other side you have Ray Allen. When his shot is on, he is so hard to stop. He has an incredibly quick release on his shot that it is hard to alter it, let alone block it. The key for the Celtics will to get Ray going early, as that would make Bryant use more energy on the defensive end. Still, that would merely slow Kobe a little bit, but no one can stop him.
The balance of power shifts at the small forward spot. Lamar Odom is a crafty player. Probably the best third option in the league right now. Alas, he is no match for Paul Pierce. Pierce could match Bryant point for point in a game, he is that good. Unfortunately his low-post game (or lack thereof) can be exploited, and Odom is the right man for the job.
Coach Doc Rivers had better devise a plan of what to do when the Lakers make Odom go to the post to abuse Pierce with some low-post plays. One viable solution would be to make Pierce guard Vladimir Radmanovic, and allow Garnett to go up against Lamar.
Speaking of which, the straight up power forward battle will be weighed by KG and Radmanovic. This one, of course is a no contest. Radmanovic has provided some steady defense at times, but his lack of aggressiveness will not allow him to cause too much trouble for Garnett.
KG simply is the best all around big man in the league. He also gives 100% effort every time. Too bad he has been settling for his jumper too often in this post-season. For the Celtics to win this, he is going to have to take his game into the post more often (much like he did against the Lakers in both of their meetings in the regular season).
The center spot is tough to judge. Pau Gasol definitely has the edge, but every now and then Kendrick Perkins puts in a performance that even Hall of Fame greats would be proud of. He is a young talented big man who can lock down the middle when his game is on. His offense is mostly limited to dunks and put backs, but he is a streaky scorer, and if he can get a few shots to fall, the increase in his confidence definitely improves his game.
Gasol is another proven winner within the Lakers. The leader of the world champion Spanish national team has a different role with his NBA squad, where he is merely the second option. Of course this bodes well for him, as his basketball IQ is high, and he can pass and score with the best of them.
The battle of the benches will be critical. It’s basically Los Angeles’ bench mob vs. the retirement center of the Celtics. The Lakers bring in young guys who can up the tempo of the game, and create crucial runs. The Celtics? They have opted for the veteran savvy of guys like Sam Cassell, James Posey, PJ Brown. These guys will definitely not crumble against pressure, but can they keep up with the pace of the Lakers offense? At this moment I am not too sold on this idea.
The coaching battle is probably the most one sided affair. Doc Rivers has yet to prove he belongs with the top coaches in this league. His decision making in the play-offs has been questionable at best. Yet he has managed to guide the Celtics this far, and a finals victory might just be the proof of his coaching acumen. Phil Jackson has more rings than any other active coach. He is considered to be the best currently at his job, and he probably has some extra motivation from losing his last final.
In all, this will be a closely fought finals that is hard to predict. It will all come down to whether the Lakers can win one of the first two games in Boston. If they can do so, I don’t see the Celtics fighting back. It should go a full seven games, with the Lakers taking Game #7.
(Portions of this article were taken from www.cbs.sportsline.com; www.sportsonthestreet.blogspot.com and www.si.com.)