On Form, It’s Celtics
You sit down and try to handicap this classic Lakers-Celtics matchup like a horse race, and the first thing you find is that it is as difficult to predict as an Al-Tipper break-up.
The Celtics are stronger and deeper, but the Lakers have Kobe Bryant and the precious home-court advantage. So which way do you go?
Well, on pure form, taking all the in-bred Southern California emotion out of it (hey, I grew up frustrated, watching Bill Russell stick it to Jerry West and Elgin Baylor every year), I have to lean toward the Celtics.
Make it Boston in seven grueling games, and here’s why:
1. You know what you’re going to get from Kevin Garnett, Kedrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace up front. You don’t know what you’re going to get from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Sure, Ron Artest’s toughness should help, but even he’s something of a purple and gold loose cannon. Will Gasol get pushed around like he did two years ago in the paint? How much of a factor will Bynum and his sore knee be? Which Odom will we see across the full series? If I’m Doc Rivers, my strategy is simple: I go after Bynum right away, try to get him in foul trouble, something that’s fairly simple to do. Force him out of the game and Gasol has to feel lonely and overmatched again on the block. Advantage, Celtics.
2. The Rajon Rondo dilemma. Whom does Phil Jackson assign to guard the kid who has become the Celts’ best player? Derek Fisher? You’re kidding, right? Kobe is the best option, but if you do that, a) You wear him out and take away some of his effectiveness at the other end, and b) You free up Ray Allen to shoot the jumpers that Fisher, or whomever plays the other guard, can’t defend. I know what you’re thinking: Boston has the same problem with Bryant. Except Paul Pierce did an excellent job defensively against Kobe two years ago. Granted, it won’t be as easy this time, because Kobe figures to be possessed. But at the very least, Pierce will make him work for everything he gets. That’s more than the Lakers can probably do with Rondo.
3. The format favors the Celtics. The two-three-two thing makes it easier for the league, the media and, of course, the TV networks. But it often hurts the best team. All Boston has to do is split the first two in L.A. Then it goes home and only has to win two of three underneath all those NBA championship banners. That would give the Eastern champs a 3-2 edge coming back to L.A., with the Lakers having to win two in a row amidst all that pressure.
4. Jackson’s bench is non-existent. Especially if Bynum collects early fouls, as expected, and Odom has to play major minutes. That leaves exactly no one capable of coming in and lighting a fire. You saw Sasha Vujacic, the league’s most overpaid player at $5 million-per, have a brain cramp and almost take the Lakers out of that pivotal Game 6 vs. Phoenix with a stupid flagrant foul. What was he thinking? That’s the problem, he wasn’t. And rarely does. You might get an occasional spectacular dunk from Shannon Brown, but that’s about it. Sorry guys, but that’s probably not enough to beat Boston.
The best thing about this series is all that’s riding on it. For starters, there’s Phil’s future, Kobe’s legacy and that smarmy Boston attitude about feeling superior to L.A.
Whichever way you’re rooting, you have to admit: This should be fun to watch.
They’re only five quick opinions, but at least they’re all mine:
What Obaldo Jimenez is doing for the Rockies is mindblowing (10-1, 0.78 ERA), but I’d suggest they don’t stretch him out to any more 128-pitch outings . . .
Jimenez’s start is the best since 1966 when Juan Marichal, maybe the most underrated pitcher in recent big league history, started 10-0 and 0.80 . . .
Let me put it this way about Marichal: He deserves to be mentioned in the same class as Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. Enough said . . .
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think the fact that Ben Rothlisberger is back working out with the Steelers is really worth all those breathless reports by ESPN . . .
Angels fans should remember this name: Michael Kohn. He’s the young power reliever whom Mike Scisocia described as “the happiest surprise” of spring training. He tore it up at Double-A Arkansas and has been promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake City, where’s getting everybody out, as well. If he keeps this up, don’t be shocked if he’s working middle relief in Anaheim in August and September . . .
— Steve Bisheff