o we are in for another classic match up between the storied Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Boston has lifted the trophy 17 times with their most recent victory, a 4-2 defeat of the Lakers in the 2007/2008 finals. But who has the edge?
The Lakers are the defending champions and have on their roster arguably the games best player in Kobe Bryant. The defending champions run to the finals saw them dispatch the Phoenix Suns in six games. They have had a relatively successful run in the regular season amassing 57 wins while suffering 25 losses in the regular season.
Blistering and blazing Boston Celtics on the other hand have had a not so great regular season but have been peaking at just the right time. Their team boasts a record of 50 wins against 32 losses but in the playoffs, they have earned the scalps of the Dwayne Wade's Miami Heat, the King's Cleveland Cavaliers and fittingly last years Eastern Conference champions and NBA finalists, Superman's Orlando Magic.
No strangers to competing at the highest level and winning championships, the Boston Celtics were considered the team to beat in the previous season had they not lost the services of key players including the heart of the franchise, Kevin Garnett.
Many felt, and I too, that had they been at full strength they would have successfully defended their title. Now that they seem to be stronger than ever, at least, the top four key players, what are their chances to prove the pundits right.
Lets take a look at some of the likely key match-ups. I'll begin with an analysis of the Lakers starting players.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Kobe is the heart and soul of the Lakers franchise. He has to be counted twice as his importance, consistency and contribution for the Lakers matches that of at least two Boston players. It is true that the Celtics have Paul Pierce but far too often he gets lost in a game and doesn't always deliver every night.
The same may be said for Ray Allen as when he is on fire he is red hot but when he is cold, he is 30 below zero cold and out of the game.
Doc Rivers is likely to have his best defensive player Kevin Garnett on the sharpshooter from LA with defensive duties rotating between Ray Allen and Tony Allen.
As far as big men are concerned, Pau Gasol is the best power forward playing in the NBA right now. yes, he is that good. His reach, quickness and offensive skills have been lethal for the Lakers and Doc Rivers will have to go to the drawing board to contain him.
I expect to see a match up between Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace on Gasol with Glen Davis providing back-up when needed.
Fisher provided leadership and a cool head who is willing and able to take those critical shots to turn a game around as well as to win a game. We have seen him do it time and time again.
His likely match-up however with the faster, aggressive and hungry Rajon Rondo will leave him breathless for sure. At age 35 plus, he is not only fighting against a player in his prime and peaking but he is battling with father time.
Never the less, he is dangerous from the three point line and is a reliable back up to Kobe in leading this Lakers team to another title. He has the experience and the intelligence and knows how to win.
"Don't you know who I am? I am Ron Artest." This statement is all too familiar to Kobe Bryant but only now he has the attack dog on his side and not the other way around.
An unpredictable player, Artest brings a level of aggression to this Lakers team and as he proved in game 5 against the Suns. he too can win matches.
A factor from behind the arc, Ron will be a keen match-up for another bad boy, Rasheed Wallace, and this will make for a most interesting match-up on the court.
The Laker center has been a shadow of himself since returning from injury and appears to have trouble with his mobility and movement under the basket as well as in defense.
Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom however are key players for the Lakers and their contribution will be vital for the defending champions to lift the trophy.
Every team has its soul, that player that gets in your face and fire you up and lead you into battle. For the Boston Celtics, that player is Kevin Garnett.
The 34 year old first team defensive player has lost some of his bite in recent times. But what he has relinquished as leader of the Celtics, Rajon Rondo has taken up and has inspired the team in the same fashion he has learned from none other than Garnett himself.
Kevin provides intensity and a scoring option to Boston and having tasted victory two seasons ago, he likes the taste of it and with glory again in sight, it is hard to see the general going down without giving it his all.
Pierce is the leading offensive player for the Celtics and will be their most reliable source to go two to two with the Laker's shooter, Kobe Bryant.
A dangerous player from behind the arc, Pierce is lethal when he is on his game. Expect to see him step up in the finals as he too has the desire to lift that NBA trophy once again before he departs from the game.
A player in the mold of a Reggie Miller, an out and out shooter that when he is on, he is unstoppable. Ray's greatest vice is that he appears to be two players with his doppelganger often times turning up in critical games and suppressing the offensive potency of one of the games best natural scorers.
He will have to ensure that his better personality or self turn up against the Lakers as his contribution is going to be vital to nullify that of Kobe's offense.
The Boston center is a bulldozer when needed and that characteristic will be needed against the defending champions. Averaging 10points and 7 rebounds a game, the 6ft 10" center will be needed to block out the likes of Gasol and Bynum under the basket and rebound the ball for point guard Rondo to do his thing
Quite possibly the NBA finals MVP, Rondo has lifted the Celtics to where they are today. Competing for the NBA championship. He will be the X factor, the difference in the two teams vying for the title in their 12th match up.
The point guard has raised his game to another level in the play-offs and is expected to lead Boston charges to their second title in three years.
Gifted with speed, agility and durability, the 6ft 1" guard has posed a quagmire for all his opponents coaches so far in the play-offs. Brown didn't know what to do to contain him against Cleveland and we all know how that went.
Not only did they reach the finals but the took perhaps the hardest router to get there. By beating the Miami heat who had won 13 of their last 14 games leading up to the playoffs.
Then their was the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have on their roster, the league MVP in Lebron James. Cleveland also held the best record in the league with 61-21. Boston simply ignored that.
Then there was the defending conference champions, Orlando Magic who had not lost a game leading up to the start of their conference finals. Surely Boston were in for it. Guess again.
Lakers v Celtics
Both teams split their match ups 1-1 in the pre-season with each winning on their home turf. Both possess a strong bench that will be evenly matched come game time starting June 3rd in Los Angeles. Boston has already made history as few teams having finished fourth in their division have been able to make it to the NBA finals.
They are the only team to have retained their starting five players since lifting the trophy in 2007/2008. They have the distinction of not having the same player being the leading scorer in every series. A sure conundrum for opposing teams and their coaches as to who do they concentrate on stopping?
The Lakers are a bit more one dimensional. Kobe has to have a good night for them to be at their best and win. Gasol is the next best leading scorer and dominates against smaller teams. Small is certainly not a description for the Celtics.
Nate Robinson had a break out game against the Magic and with his renewed confidence should play a part in the Celtic's run.He proved he is able to knock em down from behind the arc and so cannot be given too much space to roam. Yet another headache for Fisher and Farmer in a likely match-up.
Farmer is a consistent player off the bench along and always proves to be a threat from the three point arc. Lamar Kardashian-Odom is also capable of knocking them down from behind the arc. As always, he will contribute vital points coming off the bench.
The player formerly known as Big Baby Davis is capable of having a break out game and has proven so in the series against the Heat. I expect to see him providing much support to Perkins in containing gasol. Rasheed Wallace as well is capable of hurting teams from behind the arc and under the basket.
It is anyone's guess as to who will win but my bet is on the Celtics. They have proven themselves by beating some of the best teams in the NBA and also containing their best players: Wade, James and Howard. Kobe, are you next?
They are more defensive, potent on offense and has the depth on the bench. but most importantly, never underestimate the heart of a champion!
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