Living in Los Angeles while rooting for the Boston Celtics has its advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages are that one can gauge the pulse of a team's fans just by listening to local radio and television broadcasts, as well as enduring friends coming by the house and offering up their expert opinions on the NBA Finals.
The disadvantages are simply that you get hissed at and laughed at wherever you go in southern California.
You are a freak—which is really saying something in Los Angeles.
But one reoccurring statement keeps rearing its ugly head over and over again: "Lakers in 4."
Didn't Lakers fans learn their lesson two years ago? Haven't they learned to respect their opponent yet?
What I am hearing from Lakers fans over and over again is that Kobe is the best player in the NBA. I said that very same thing two months ago and got laughed at from LeBronists. Now, the consensus is that Kobe is the best, and I am happy to hear that—at least we all can agree on that.
But what I don't agree with is the Lakers being the best team in the NBA.
Far from it. Why?
Done, done and done. What makes the Lakers fans think their best player—Kobe—is going to win the whole kit-and-caboodle? They didn't two years ago.
While the Lakers have the great Kobe, that's it. They still might be Kobe and the Four Dwarfs despite having a more experienced Gasol and an added Ron Artest, but there still isn't a lot of balance.
How many times do we hear "Kobe" after a game? Answer: always.
What about the Lakers as a "team"? *crickets chirping*
Sure, Pau Gasol is a great offensive player (and shot-blocker), but in the paint, he employs a matador defense when an opponent drives at him and the basket. Bynum is no better—he has great hands but questionable feet.
I love Derek Fisher, and have always stood by him when other fans thought he was too old to play—Rajon Rondo will, unfortunately, age him 10 years by the fourth game. I can't see Phil Jackson putting Fisher on Rondo.
The Celtics are a great team. The Lakers have the greatest player. The Celtics have killer instinct, as a team. Kobe, with spurts of Artest and Fisher, has killer instinct—the rest of the team does not.
In the close-out Western Conference Finals game, Kobe scored 37 points. The rest? Not so great. Ron Artest did toss up 25 points, but I doubt that's what the Lakers expect from him going forward. It was an unexpected bonus.
The Lakers expect huge production from Gasol, and frankly, I don't see it. A look at his production through the playoffs:
Lakers vs Thunder
12.1 rebounds, 18 points.
Lakers vs Jazz
14.5 rebounds, 23.5 points
Lakers vs Suns
7.16 rebounds, 19.7 points
While Gasol's points have remained relatively consistent, his rebounds have not. In fact, against the better of three teams in the Western Conference playoffs, Gasol was reduced to single-digit rebounds. Against a smaller Suns team?
More alarming is that during the close-out game against the Suns, Gasol only collected seven rebounds and nine points. If champions are made during close-out games, where does Gasol stand?
Many can argue that Kobe took over the game, thus accounting for such a poor performance from Gasol, but Artest did score 25 points in that same game. In fact, Artest improved from an 8.2 ppg to a 14.3 ppg in that conference final.
But the Lakers are going to be on a wing and a prayer if they expect Artest to do that same thing against a much better defense.
Gasol is beautiful to watch with his baby hook. Heck, he is downright deadly within 10 feet of the basket, but he appears clumsy while defending smaller players in the paint. His defense is a sore spot, and with Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce driving to the basket, I don't see Gasol being in the right position to defend.
The Celtics have better defensive rotations than the Lakers.
Yes, the two teams split their regular season games, but it's forgotten that the Celtics beat the Lakers at Staples. Yes, the Lakers were without Kobe Bryant's services, but the Lakers had won several games without Kobe prior to the Celtics game. Moreover, with Kobe, they beat the Celtics by only one point.
Home court advantage also means nothing here. The Celtics have a better road record than home record. The 2-3-2 format favors the Lakers, but only if they win the first two games. If they drop one of the first two games, it now becomes a no-home court advantage series for either team.
The defense and bench play are the key to the Lakers-Celtics series.
During the regular season, the Celtics and the Lakers played twice: Lakers 90, Celtics 89. Celtics 87, Lakers 86. Boston's offense averaged 99.2 ppg, while the Lakers averaged 101.69.
When the Lakers score 100+ ppg, their winning percentage is .889, and that is the key for the Lakers. If they average over 25 points per quarter, then they will win the game. But so far, the Lakers haven't done that against Boston.
The bench is where the Celtics have an advantage over the Lakers.
The play from Nate Richardson, Tony Allen, and Big Baby Davis has been well-documented. The bench play from the Lakers has not. Sasha has been in a slump—except for one game where he actually showed up—and both Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom have been very inconsistent. Bynum looks at times lost defending in the paint, and Farmar's tres are very erratic.
So who will win?
Lakers fans will tell you the Celtics were 27-27 in the last half of the regular season. But Doc Rivers revealed how he purposely rested the Big Three (Pierce, Garnett, and Allen) during that portion of the regular season—Garnett averaged only 30 minutes per game during that time frame. Rivers and Danny Ainge both agreed that the Big Three should have minute restrictions until the playoffs, and so far, that strategy has paid off.
Just ask LeBron James.
This series will go to seven games, despite the Lakers fans' myopia. Remember, Boston smoked a Cavaliers team in the playoffs, the same Cavaliers team that smoked the Lakers twice in regular season.
Game Seven will be played in Los Angeles, so that's a distinct advantage for the Lakers. However, defense wins championships. So does killer instinct.
Be careful what you wish for, Los Angeles. A sleeping giant has awoken.
Boston in seven.