Friday, June 4, 2010

Lakers vs. Celtics, Take 12.

2-9. That's the Lakers' current record against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. To date, the Celtics have practically owned the Lakers when it has come down to deciding who has the right to hold up the Larry O' Brien trophy at the end of the year. Most of that damage was done by Bill Russell, but there was also considerable emotional damage done by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish in the 1980's, and those years are the ones that really are remembered; the Magic skyhook, the McHale-Rambis clothesline, Larry Bird whipping the air with his towel. Unfortunately for me, I only remember those moments in clips of highlights shown from those memorable battles during the 1980's. The memories I DO have, however, consist of Paul Pierce sitting in a wheelchair like he's seen his final days as an NBA player and then miraculously coming out of the tunnel like he had just been cured by a witch doctor to lead the Celtics to a victory. I remember Lamar Odom shying away from driving the ball into the lane, Pau Gasol flopping all over the place, the Celtics reinforcing the "defensive thug" stereotype of the Eastern Conference teams. That's what I remember. I remember an inexperienced and (other than Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher) "happy to be here" Lakers team, and if there's one thing that will be different about this year's finals, it's that everyone on the team knows that anything less than a title would be a colossal meltdown.

Los Angeles needs this title. As of right now, it looks like both baseball teams are not going to be able to make it to the World Series unless they pull off some major trades, and we still don't have a football team. There are too many negative ramifications looming for the Lakers to lose this title. The Lakers would have lost twice to the hated Celtics in the NBA Finals over the past three years, Phil Jackson would be even more tempted to flee Los Angeles for retirement, and the Lakers would have to win five to six more NBA titles to overtake Boston for "the greatest NBA franchise in history" title if they lost, and that's something no Laker fan wants to deal with. Reliving the 1980's is something nobody really wants to deal with, not even if your name is Alf, and if the Lakers want to hang with the Celtics, they're going to have to set the tone in this series that they're not going to be pushed around. I could just see Phil Jackson bring DJ Mbenga off the bench to intentionally start a fight with Kendrick Perkins and have him miss a crucial game in this series. But really, they're going to have to defend their home court and not let their emotions towards the Boston defense aggravate them, and really, all of that starts with one man: Ron Artest.

This year the Lakers boast a tougher, more formidable squad, one that is more comfortable with the physical play that Boston brings to the table. That's not to say that the Lakers are as physical as the Celtics, but I believe that the addition of Ron Artest is going to pay dividends for the Lakers in this series. Artest won't have a problem playing up to the physical style that Pierce plays with although I don't think anyone doubted that, especially after the melee that he was involved in. To be honest, after the Lakers acquired Artest via free agency this past offseason after letting Ariza go off for greener pastures, the first thing that popped into my mind was "back-to-back", and the reason being was because every contender that the Lakers were going to see from the Eastern Conference was going to have a small forward that they were going to have to deal with; the Cavaliers had reigning MVP LeBron James, the Celtics had 2008 Finals MVP Paul Pierce, and the Magic had newly-acquired All-Star Vince Carter. So far he's made his presence felt against the league's leading scorer in Kevin Durant, and he should continue to earn his paycheck against Pierce.

People might point to the point guard position as a sore spot for the Lakers on defense, but given the Phoenix series, I think they've figured out how they're going to slow down Rajon Rondo, or at least make him do things that he doesn't want to do. Against Phoenix, the Lakers guarded Steve Nash one-on-one and used his defender as a helper on the Suns' shooters that got open off the pick-and-roll. Look for the Lakers to do the same against Rondo. They should challenge him to make 15-20 footers and guard the Celtics that are rolling off of screens. What they can't have happen is Rajon Rondo driving to the basket for all of his points, drawing fouls, or dumping the ball off to Garnett and Perkins for easy hoops. As long as the Lakers can do that, they'll have an excellent chance to win this series. Given how badly Kobe wants to win and Artest's determination to show that he was the correct choice for this team, I do believe the Lakers win, but not without someone getting a bloody nose.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3.
Series MVP: Kobe Bryant

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