In the waning weeks before the start of the 2010 NBA postseason, both the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics suddenly found themselves struggling to search for any type of stimulus to kickstart their respective playoff paths.
The Lakers culminated March with a road trip on which coach Phil Jackson hoped to finish at least 4-1, but in reality they squeezed out just two wins and averaged only 94 points over the five-game span.
Ultimately, L.A. would slip into the second season losers of six of its last 10 games, at which point people started to wonder if they were watching the Lakers—or the Flakers.
After all, you never knew whether or not they were going to show up from game to game.
They limped into postseason play with a 3-7 clip in their final 10-game stretch of the regular season—the worst record among all 16 playoff teams—and were set for an opening-round matchup with the Miami Heat, the hottest team (no pun intended) in basketball at that juncture.
To add stale popcorn to a mundane movie, Boston was also being openly questioned by its very own coach—you know, the one person who is supposed to remain confident and composed, even if the Armageddon is impending—who wondered out loud about his uncertainty as to which Celtics team would come to play each game.
After a six-month, 82-game season, media members and fans alike wondered whether or not there was such a thing as flipping the proverbial switch.
More importantly, they wondered if the Lakers and Celtics each were capable of doing so before being ousted by the increased competition in their respective conferences.
Seven weeks and three rounds later, the L.A.-Boston war is being waged again, with the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the line for an unprecedented 12th time.
While their particular routes to Championship Circle and Ring Road are strikingly similar, the parallels between the 2008 Finals encounter and this year's championship showdown are more like perpendicular lines.
For one thing, the Lakers hold the home-court advantage—an advantage that has helped them stay perfect at Staples Center (8-0) thus far this postseason.
By winning Games One and Two on their home floor in 2008, the Celtics buried L.A. in an early 2-0 hole, which proved to be enough for their record 17th title.
Furthermore, this time around the Lakers have two new additions to their starting lineup—two additions that impose most of their will on the defensive end, where they were brutally beaten two years ago.
First, Andrew Bynum will be suited up to contend with Kendrick Perkins, who had his way with the much smaller and softer Pau Gasol in 2008.
Although he is battling a torn meniscus in his right knee, Bynum still provides a towering tandem when teamed with Gasol on the starting front line—a tandem that averaged 33 points, 19 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks over the two-game regular season series against Boston.
Second, the arrival of Ron Artest possesses a solution to the Paul Pierce equation, which was apparently impossible to solve two years ago (Pierce posted 22 points, 4.5 rebounds and six assists per game in the six-game series).
With Ron Ron harassing Paul Paul in those two regular season games, Pierce averaged only 13 points and 2.5 assists, while shooting just 40 percent from the field.
Finally, the underlying difference-maker in this series will be the play of each bench, which was so spectacular for the Celtics in 2008.
With the veteran combination of P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, James Posey, and Eddie House—along with Leon Powe's emergence—L.A.'s second unit was simply manhandled by Boston's bench.
This year, the Celtics are without those four second-stringers and instead bring a much less experienced group (Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, and Sheldon Williams) to the table.
In addition to the only player ever to be ejected from the McDonald's High School All-American Game, Rasheed Wallace and the grandfather-like Michael Finley.
On Thursday night, both teams will collide on their respective-but-similar paths to the Promised Land.
Right now, the Lakers appear to be one step ahead.
You can contact Josh Hoffman at JHoffMedia@gmail.com.
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