I've got thoughts! I've got forecasts! I've got predictions!
After an unnecessarily long, only-in-the-NBA layoff between the conference finals and Thursday night's Game 1, it's finally time to play some basketball.
Like a lot of people, I think there's no question that the Lakers have been the more impressive of the two Finals teams through the postseason, beating three teams that won 50-plus games, including the defending champs in five. But while the Celtics were flat against Atlanta and disappointed against Cleveland, they bounced back to beat a good Detroit squad, including two wins in Motown, and are such a good defensive team that they have the ability to beat anyone.
Really, it should be fun. So with that, the thoughts, forecasts, and predictions promised in the post's title:
- I'm not a guy who likes to go position by position to decide which team has the advantage. Is Paul Pierce a better player than Vlad Rad at small forward? Well, yeah. What's your point? What matters is how each team operates, since individual matchups are often fluid throughout a game and a series. While the Celtics are indeed an outstanding defensive team, the Lakers are by far the best offensive team Boston will have faced this postseason, can score on the run and in the half court, and against the Spurs the Lakers proved they don't have to drop 115 points a night to win. The big question for me isn't really how much the Lakers will score against Boston, but whether or not the Celtics will find enough offense to be productive against L.A.
Lost in much of the talk about the Big Green Wall Boston puts in front of its hoop is the reality that the Lakers, despite how much people like to complain about it, are actually a solid defensive team, too. Just ask the Spurs, who went huge stretches without being able to generate enough offense to take advantage of openings presented to them. Throughout the postseason, when the Lakers have needed stops, they've found them, and have had long stretches where they shut teams down.
In short, the gap between each team's D isn't as big as the one between their respective offenses. Advantage Lakers.
- Celtics fans are already wondering how Doc Rivers is planning on screwing up the Finals. I wonder if the players have the same level of faith in him that the Lakers do in Phil Jackson.
- If Ray Allen continues to find his groove, the Lakers could have some problems. For all the talk of Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, who both could undoubtedly have a huge impact on the series (though as dynamic as Rondo can be, is he better than A.I., Deron Williams or Tony Parker?), if Allen is on he truly gives Boston a Big Three, and makes it much, much more difficult to guard Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. You may have received the memo that those guys are pretty good.
- KG has made his living in the playoffs with a midrange game. If he stays there, he's doing the Lakers a favor. Should he be able to make hay in the post, though, it'll be a problem for L.A. Conversely, if the Lakers are able to work from the inside out, I don't care how stout the Celtics are defensively, the Lakers will score. Along those lines, it might help Boston to get that good work inside if Doc unshackled Leon Powe and Glen Davis from the bench.
- Pau's point production is less important than his point prevention. The slack always seems to get picked up somewhere offensively.
- The Celtics are one of the few teams with enough horses to try to play Kobe straight and hope to shut down the supporting cast, but I wonder if they will. The temptation to try to get the ball out of his hands is incredibly strong once games start, but as I've written in the past, the minute teams overplay Kobe, they're doing the Lakers a favor.
- When it comes down to it, the Lakers have the best player on the floor (Kobe), the better coach (PJ), similar balance up and down the roster. They've beaten a running team, a physical team and a championship team, showing along the way they can win in a variety of styles. To make a long story short, right now they're the better team. Not by a ton, but by enough. Lakers in six.