The Lakers should be favored, based on having the NBA's best player and coach along with their balance at both ends of the floor. But I don't see this being a landslide win for them. Not only are the Celtics going to make a tight contest of it, but I can also imagine them winning Game 7 based on the strength of their defense and their growth as a playoff team since the second round. Does Paul Pierce have a great series in him? I think he does.
The Celtics' defense is legit. Boston will make it tough for Kobe Bryant, not to mention Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and any other Laker not accustomed to competing for such high stakes. But you can't stop Bryant for an entire series, and Finals pressure is perfect for Derek Fisher, who will not only hit three-pointers but also make it difficult for Rajon Rondo to get the C's into their offense. (Which Rondo has enough trouble doing anyway.) Plus, the Lakers' defense -- always solid, often very, very good -- is the underrated aspect of this series. The Celtics just won't be able to generate enough points to win more than two games, and the Lakers are quite capable of winning this thing on the road.
The Celtics have the Big Three, a great defense and home-court advantage. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and more firepower off the bench. L.A. also has more length around the basket, superior quickness and fresher legs. And did we mention it also has Kobe?
I'm sticking with my pre-playoffs pick of a Boston title. Paul Pierce will take his place among Celtics legends with a transcendent performance, Ray Allen will make longtime nemesis Kobe Bryant work hard for his points and Kevin Garnett will dominate when he's matched against Pau Gasol -- at least at home. Then there is the spiritual factor: Does anyone think the ghost of Red Auerbach will allow Phil Jackson to beat the Celtics for his record 10th championship (which would break a tie between the two coaches)?
This is a head pick over a heart pick; after covering every minute of Kevin Garnett's career in Minnesota, I can't help but pull for him to reach his dream. But Boston's offense is more of a concern to me than the Lakers' defense. There are times when the Celtics, and Rajon Rondo in particular, struggle just to get the ball up the floor. At the other end, as good as Boston is without the ball, L.A. is even better with it.
L.A.'s Big Three of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom is just as good as Boston's Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and when it comes to depth, the Lakers have a huge advantage. Athleticism is everywhere with this team, and that's the type of club the Celtics have had the most trouble containing. Boston will want to make it a defensive struggle while the Lakers will push for more of a wide-open, high-scoring affair -- and they certainly have the horses to do it. They will wear down Boston and have an answer for everything with which the Celtics try to counter.
The Lakers are 34-8 with Pau Gasol in the lineup. With the 7-foot Spaniard comfortable in the second banana role, the Lakers aren't going to add four more losses to that mark. Phil Jackson is likely to do a tap dance on Doc Rivers in everything from playing the officials to matchups. And Bryant is obsessed with proving he can lead a team to a title without Shaquille O'Neal.
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