It is officially back to the good old days where the two best teams in the NBA are from Los Angeles and Boston. 2008 saw both the Celtics and Lakers in the NBA Finals with Boston’s “Big Three” in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce win their first NBA title. The only knock was coming Lakers fans saying that the outcome would’ve been different had Andrew Bynum been healthy at the time. Boston, however, was the better team. Sure Bynum could have helped protect the paint from the undersized lineup the Lakers had put out there. That is purely speculation though. What we do know is that the Lakers were branded a soft team that still resonates in the back of their minds today.
2009 could have easily been another Lakers vs. Celtics matchup. Boston was bounced in the semifinals by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic. The Lakers had a healthy, but mostly ineffective Andrew Bynum last year. It wouldn’t matter much as Kobe Bryant was his usual self and Pau Gasol put to rest the “soft” label by almost everyone, including Lakers fans, with his brilliant play throughout the playoffs. The Lakers easily beat the Magic in 5 games to win number 15 only two behind Boston as a franchise.
The point being made about Boston was that they were finally healthy (no KG in 2009) going into 2010. There were rumblings that if Garnett had been healthy, the Celtics would have made it to the 2009 Finals. Maybe so, but you can’t dwell on the past. The Celtics breezed by the Miami Heat in 5 games in the first round. Cleveland was taken out of their game early and lost in 6 games to the Celtics in the semifinals. Orlando had the same problem losing in 6 to a resurgent Celtic squad.
The Lakers were the unanimous selection to repeat as Western Conference champs before the playoffs and still were going in. The youngest team in the league in Oklahoma City took the Lakers to 6 games and thanks to a game winning tip in by Pau Gasol finished the series in Oklahoma. Los Angeles wasted no time in sweeping the Utah Jazz in the semifinals. Phoenix, however, was not going down without a fight as they nearly stole a game in LA, but Ron Artest’s buzzer beating bank shot in Game 5 gave the Lakers the momentum to finish the Suns in 6 games.
Both teams have new identities now. The Lakers are seen now as the better team. Boston is seen as the underdog. Boston doesn’t have James Posey or Leon Powe on their bench anymore. Two important pieces to their title run in 2008. The Lakers have Andrew Bynum healthy, sort of. And Ron Artest as a defensive stopper to try and disrupt Paul Pierce. Also it pits two of the games best coaches in Phil Jackson, who will be after his 11th title as a coach and Doc Rivers who is one of the best at making on the fly adjustments during a series.
There’s no doubt it will be a tough, hard fought series. As predicted in this post back in October, “NBA Preview 2009-10” the Lakers would meet the Celtics in the NBA Finals. Sure I had my doubts going into the playoffs. I figured Cleveland and Orlando would meet in the Conference Finals, but what I didn’t figure is that the Celtics would prove myself and everyone else wrong about who they were. A championship caliber team that might well be trying to win their third title in a row. It was quite possible, but it isn’t 2008. It’s 2010. Different time and the Celtics are playing a different team. Lakers to win in 6 games.