It's the matchup of the fans' dreams.
The beast of the East. The best of the West. Celtics vs. Lakers.
The two storied franchises have a combined 30 NBA titles. The rivalry originated in the 1960s and has continued for a near half-century. Greats like Russell, Baylor, West, Bird, and Magic have been featured in this intense rivalry.
Now future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have the opportunity to etch their names in the record books and create their legacy on this historic rivalry.
The Celtics and Lakers have met 10 times in the NBA finals, with Boston taking the first 8 and Los Angeles the last 2. I fully expect the Lakers' winning ways to continue.
Here are 10 reasons why the Lakers will be crowned NBA champs in 2008.
10. Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom is one of the most underappreciated players in the NBA. After emerging as a formidable threat with the Clippers while battling drug addiction, Odom was traded to the Miami Heat. There, he played in the shadow of Dwyane Wade and suddenly found himself in Los Angeles.
Despite struggling to establish a connection with Kobe early, following Phil Jackson's arrival, Odom emerged as a solid No. 2 man alongside Bryant. Odom served a great purpose on this year's team, and has continued his strong play this postseason, playing hard on both sides of the ball.
Odom averaged a double-double this season with 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. In fact, following the trade for Pau Gasol, Odom played the best basketball of his career, overshadowed by Kobe's MVP season. Odom averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists per game following the blockbuster deal which leads to...
9. The acquisition of Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol had made a name for himself in Memphis. With the Grizzlies, he set numerous franchise records and became an All-Star.
Earlier this year, however, Gasol was traded to the Lakers in a deal that solidified Los Angeles' status as the best team in the Western Conference. Gasol immediately jelled with Bryant to form a 1-2 punch that was as formidable as any in the NBA.
Gasol averaged close to 19 points and eight rebounds in the 27-regular season games with the Lakers, while shooting at a ridiculous 59 percent clip. Gasol's impact proved invaluable in the playoffs as well providing a foil to the Cambys, the Boozers, and the Duncans that stood in the Lakers' path.
Gasol has been equally impressive in the postseason and is a big reason why the Lakers are in the NBA finals. His acquisition has allowed Kobe to be more free on the offensive side of the ball and has made the entire team stronger and deeper.
8. It ain't Boston's year
Yes, the Celtics had the best record in the NBA. That is, of course in the regular season. That is, of course in the Eastern Conference. That is, of course, in the lowly Eastern Conference.
The fact is another Boston team also thrived in the regular season. The New England Patriots went 16-0. But they failed to live up to the lofty expectations they created when losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Come to think of it, once 2008 rolled around, the Patriots were a different team.
Yes, the Boston Red Sox took the World Series crown this past year. But that was 2007. This is 2008. The Celtics had a great start to the season in 2007, and looked as if they may approach the 72-10 mark of the '98 Bulls.
In fact, the Celtics were 26-3 at the end of the calendar year. But by January of 2008, the Celtics were suddenly 36-8.
The Celtics have also struggled mightily in the postseason, playing seven-game series with the Hawks and Cavs and taking six games to outlast the Pistons. The Celtics' 12-8 postseason record is a pale comparison to their 66-16 record in the regular season.
It was inevitable that the Celtics would reach the finals, just as it was for the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl. But the Celtics most certainly won't be celebrating in June.
7. Bench Play
Throughout the entire NBA season, the media has hyped the Big 3 in Boston. Garnett, Allen and Pierce have even starred in Sportscenter commercials. However, the teams that win championships have great depth.
Look no further than the past couple of years. The Spurs' winning teams had great depth, especially with their guard rotation. The Pistons were one of the deepest teams in basketball history, with role players such as McDyess, Hunter, and Arroyo.
The Lakers bench has been the strongest of any team all season. With a starting lineup featuring Kobe, Odom and Gasol, not to mention Radmanovic and Fisher, the starting five has great balance.
But in addition, the bench features great role players. Sasha Vujacic is an excellent three-point shooter who provides the Lakers with great range. Luke Walton is a very versatile forward that can score, rebound, pass and defend, a rarity from a bench player. Turiaf gives the Lakers a good defensive presence inside.
Together, these players give the Lakers the edge they need to beat the Celtics.
6. Lookin' Good in the Playoffs
The Lakers have stepped it up another notch in the postseason.
The Lakers completely destroyed the Nuggets in four quick and easy games to advance to the second round.
Then in the second round, they faced an underrated Jazz team that had lost just four games at home all season. The Lakers defeated Utah in six games, closing out the series at EnergySolutions Arena in Utah.
Finally, in the conference finals, the Lakers dispatched the defending champion Spurs in five games to advance to the NBA finals. Kobe Bryant showcased his talent and showed why the Lakers are the best team in the league.
Meanwhile, the Celtics went the distance in the first two rounds against two average teams in the Hawks and Cavaliers. Then against the Pistons, the Celtics finally woke up, but still took six games to take care of their opponent.
Clearly, the Lakers have been the sharper of the two teams.
5. Best in the West
The Lakers made an incredible turnaround from last year's lackluster squad. Los Angeles were the Western Conference's best with a 57-25 record. That, in itself, is an incredible accomplishment considering that the Lakers had to face the Western Conference's best all season while Boston and Detroit feasted on the weak teams in the East.
The Lakers come out on top of a wealth of quality teams. The Hornets, the Spurs, the Jazz, the Rockets, the Mavs, and the Suns were all in the jam-packed Western conference. Still, the fiesty Lakers claimed the best record.
The West prepared the Lakers for a tough road through the playoffs and prepared the team for any battle they may face. LA is fully ready to take on the Celtics and it has the confidence needed to defeat them.
4. They want it more
At the beginning of the season, all we knew about the Lakers was that they had a disgruntled star in Kobe Bryant. As fans, we were waiting to see the team self-destruct, waiting to see the team crumble to pieces, waiting to see Kobe kill the team.
Then by early December, the team had fallen to 12-12, and we were certain it was about to happen.
But it didn't. Instead, Kobe took the team on his shoulders and led the Lakers from that point to a 45-13 record. Bryant never let the team fall and brought everyone together. He served as a mentor to the young team and truly became a leader for an inexperienced team that was in dire need of one.
Kobe Bryant's passion and desire has never once been questioned. He instilled this same determination and heart in his teammates and now the Lakers see their hopes from the beginning of the season just four games away. For Bryant, it's a chance to remove himself from Shaq's shadow, and show that he can win a championship on his own.
3. Phil Jackson
Need I say more?
Jackson is considered one of, if not the greatest coach in NBA history. His statistics stand alone when compared to other coaches. His nine NBA titles tie him with none other than Celtics' coach Red Auerbach.
Jackson established a name for himself with the Bulls, winning six titles in a span of eight years. Following Jordan's retirement, Jackson vowed to never coach again. But his love and passion for coaching brought him back after just one year to the Lakers.
He coached the Lakers to three consecutive titles with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal starring for the squad. He was able to utilize the triangle offense to keep both involved, along with players such as Rick Fox and Robert "Big Shot" Horry.
Jackson's legacy is questioned sometimes due to his inheritance of great players (Jordan and Pippen in the 90s, Shaq and Kobe in the early 2000s), but his coaching ability cannot be doubted. Jackson was able to take this great amount of talent and turn it into something special.
in Chicago, he created an offense that centered around MJ, but that depended on other players as well. In doing so, he avoided making the team one-dimensional and contributed to the Bulls' winning ways.
In Los Angeles, Jackson did a remarkable job in getting two superstars, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, to coexist. Jackson helped mature the star we now know as Kobe and crafted Shaq into one of, if not the most dominant big man to ever play the game. Regardless of the talent he had, his coaching prowess should not be questioned. He can certainly serve as a difference in this series, with his experience of winning.
I could go on forever about the impact of Bryant, but I will try to keep it as short as possible.
Kobe Bryant is undeniably one of the greatest players to ever play professional basketball. He has three championships from the early years of his career and has matured into a bonafide star.
This 2007-2008 campaign has made Kobe a true legend. Winning the MVP award was just one of Bryant's great accomplishments. Kobe has been a tremendous player for years, and it was about time he received the award.
Bryant has always been a remarkable scorer. His 81-point performance in Toronto is a clear cut example of that. Any time Kobe takes the court, he has the potential to light up the scoreboard.
But this year Bryant established himself as a team player. He became a leader for the young players on the Lakers. After demanding a trade over the summer, Kobe left himself in a precarious situation. It would be very easy to break down, especially with the Lakers' early season struggles. Bryant, however, rose above and inspired his team, invigorating a confidence that fueled the entire team.
The numbers don't speak enough and yet they are still ridiculous. Bryant had a down year in scoring, averaging just 28.3 points per game at a 46 percent clip. Some of his other numbers increased, though, as he approached 6.5 and 5.5 rebounds and assists per game respectively. Also, Bryant continued to drive to the basket, getting to the charity stripe nine times per game.
In the postseason, Bryant has realized what is at stake. With his desire to win a championship, Bryant has risen his game to another level, if that is even possible. He is averaging nearly 32 ppg, over 6 rebounds per game and nearly 6 assists per contest. Even his shooting percentage is at a ridiculous 51%.
Bryant proved to his loyal LA fans this season that he truly is the next Michael Jordan. He is a true leader, a great scorer, a fantastic defender and a legend in the making. After this June, he'll notch the fourth championship of his career.
And, oh yeah, he won't even have turned 30 yet.
1. The better team wins
This idea is quite simple. In the game of basketball, there are four quarters, 48 minutes of hard fought action. Two teams face off against each other, each with five members on the court at a given time. Points are awarded when each team makes the ball in the basket. Thus, the team that records the most points wins.
Common sense will tell you that the team that scores the most points will win. But which team will score the most points? Well, common sense also tells you that the better team will win.
But who is the better team?
The better team is the team that is stronger, that is smarter, that is more powerful that the other. The better team is the one that is more passionate, more determined, more strong-minded than the other team. The better team leaves it all on the court for that small chance that maybe, just maybe, they can finish ahead of the other team.
In a battle between two bitter rivals, between the leagues best teams, between two storied franchises, both will exemplify these characteristics that label them as "better".
The difference in this series will be the other nine reasons I mentioned. The Lakers are "better" because they have Jackson, they have Gasol, they have Kobe, etc.
In any case, I've got the Lakers in six.
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