Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The NBA Finals Are (almost) Upon Us

I'm not going to make a secret about it: two of your writer/editors of this here blog are fanatical Lakers fans. With that bit of shocking information out of the way, we hope to bring you a post a day from now until the Lakers destroy the hapless Celtics and the NBA Finals are at an end.

At first glance, and this may be the Lou Holtzness about me, but I don't see how the Celtics are such huge underdogs. The pundits say they are. Vegas says they are. I don't get it: they had the best record in basketball (66-16) in the regular season, and as such, they have home court advantage for the Finals. They've only lost one game at home, to Detroit, and avenged that loss by winning two in a row to close out the Pistons. They have Kevin Garnett. They have Ray Allen. And, most importantly, they have Paul Pierce.

What do the Lakers have going for them? Kobe Bryant. That's about it, right? I mean, let's face it: the Lakers are a young team (Derek Fisher is the elder statesman) with a majority of players under the age of 30. Kobe and Fisher are the only two Lakers to have even sniffed a run this deep into the playoffs before. Granted, the Celtics starters aren't exactly laden with Finals experience themselves, but they do have veteran presence in the locker room (Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown come to mind) and their best players are older than the Lakers' best players.

However, even though the focus is squarely on Bryant, once you take a deeper look into the team, you can see why they ought to win the series. They have interchangable parts at almost every position, "change of pace" guys that can come off the bench and make things happen. Vladimir Radmanovich starts the game, and his equally-Eastern European counterpart, Sasha Vujacic, comes in off of the bench. They both shoot threes with reckless abandon. Derek Fisher starts the game at point guard, bringing his defense and shooting touch to the table, and he's replaced by Jordan Farmar, who comes with his high energy and athleticism. Pau Gasol starts at center only to be replaced by the almost-has-a-screw-loose Ronny Turiaf, who rebounds and plays a much more physical game than Gasol. Then you've got the versatile Luke Walton, who can play either as a three or four, and who can rebound and occasionally knock down the big shot. Throw in the fact that Trevor Ariza is back from injury and is tenth guy off of the bench (and will likely see time in the series), and you can see why the Lakers are in the Finals: it has as much to do with Kobe Bryant as it does the depth that the Lakers can bring off of the bench. It's also as much about the way these guys play together as well--they actually look and feel like a real team in every sense of the word.

I don't know exactly what's going to happen when they finally tip this thing off on Thursday night, but here is my prediction for the series:

Game One: Celtics come out high-energy and take an early lead, possibly in double-digits. Lakers cut it to single digits at the half and take a lead in the third quarter. Game is back and forth after that with the Celtics winning a close one. Celtics, 1-0.

Game Two: Similar to Game One except that it is the Lakers who jump out early in the first half and ultimately cruise to a victory. Series tied, 1-1.

Game Three: Lakers come out popping in front of an unusual early-arriving Staples Center crowd. Everything clicks and the Lakers win by double digits. Lakers, 2-1.

Game Four: Celtics bear down and grind one out in the true sense of the word. This will be an ugly basketball game. Lots of fouls, lots of turnovers. Celtics win a game that finishes in the 80s. Series tied, 2-2.

Game Five: This is the one that will decide the series. It's essentially a must-win for the Lakers as they cannot afford to go back to Boston down 3-2. Kobe realizes this and comes out shooting and is on fire. He gets help from a resurgent Lamar Odom and the bench chips in as well as the starters get a nice rest in the fourth quarter and the Lakers win going away. Lakers, 3-2.

Game Six: Boston's back is against the wall and they know it. They come out firing and Pierce is hot early. They take an early lead and maintain it until halftime. They stretch the lead out to 15 in the third quarter and then Kobe goes to work. His play seems to reawaken the Lakers and they come all the way back to tie it in the fourth, and then take a lead. The Celtics never recover and the Lakers when a close one, likely in the 80s. Lakers win series, 4-2.

There you have it: Lakers in six.

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