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Lakers vs. Celtics: NBA comes full circle

By Scott Tibbs, June 4, 2008

It seems that everything from the 1980's is back. The fourth "Indiana Jones" movie was released last month, the sixth "Rocky" movie was released in 2006, and the fourth "Rambo" movie came out earlier this year. The 80's cartoon series "Transformers" was made into a live-action movie a couple years ago. The "Superman" movie franchise was revived as well, although they made the hero into a stalker, burglar and deadbeat dad. There is even talk of a fourth "Beverly Hills Cop" movie. I suspect that if Charles Bronson was still alive, we would see the 87-year-old actor making another "Death Wish" sequel soon.

The sports world is not exempt, as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics will be meeting in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. Kobe Bryant was 9 years old when the Lakers and Celtics last met in the playoffs, and Kevin Garnett was 11. Boston met Los Angeles three times in the 1980's, with the "Showtime" Lakers winning in 1985 and 1987 and Boston winning in 1984. Sports sites are abuzz with Lakers/Celtics history, although interestingly enough two of the Celtics three NBA championships were won against the Houston Rockets while the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers twice and the Detroit Pistons once.

Boston was unable to win on the road against Cleveland and Atlanta in the first and second rounds, though they did manage to win twice in Detroit including closing the Pistons out in Game 6. If Boston loses one of the first two games, they are going to have to survive three consecutive games on the other coast to make it home safe. And while Boston's 65-16 record looks stronger at first glance than the 57-25 record posted by Los Angeles, the Lakers were playing in the much more difficult Western Conference. The 8th-seeded Denver Nuggets won 49 games and would have placed 4th if they played in the East.

Have the Celtics played together long enough to win a championship? They have been together for less than a year. Is that enough time for three All-Stars to be familiar enough with how the others play to unseat a team that knocked out defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs four games to one? Following are my predictions on how the Lakers and Celtics match up.

  1. Point Guard: The numbers favor Rajon Rondo, but the edge goes to Los Angeles because of Derek Fisher's playoff experience.

  2. Shooting Guard: Ray Allen is great, but Kobe Bryant is arguably the best player in the game right now. Lakers again have the advantage.

  3. Small Forward: Odom has a significant size advantage and has taken his game up a notch since the big trade earlier this year. This is almost too close to call, but the advantage again goes to Los Angeles.

  4. Power Forward: Kevin Garnett significantly outclasses Vladimir Radmanovic here.

  5. Center: Pau Gasol provides another advantage for the Lakers.

Kobe Bryant, who has been compared to Michael Jordan since he entered the NBA out of high school, seems to have matured quite a bit since his disastrous performance in the 2004 championship series. In the Lakers' 4 losses, Bryant shot 10 for 27 (37%), 4 for 13 (30.8%), 8 for 25 (32%) and 7 for 21 (33.3%). Meanwhile, Shaquille O'Neal dominated, shooting 13 for 16 (81.3%), 7 for 14 (50%), 16 for 21 (76.2%) and 7 for 13 (53.8%). Had Bryant not been so selfish, the series would have at least been more competitive. The Lakers imploded over the summer, with O'Neal getting traded to Miami and winning a championship in 2006.

If for no other reason than the history of this rivalry, the Lakers/Celtics match up has brought a lot of attention and I would not be surprised to see ratings for the NBA Finals to be higher than they have been in several years. Los Angeles has a better playoff record while facing tougher opponents, and despite the Detroit series doubts still linger about Boston's ability to win on the road. I expect Los Angeles will win in 6 games.