1) LA's Run
Chances are you've heard of the Lakers 12-3 record in the playoffs. No doubt you've also heard that the Celtics went 12-8. Trouble for Boston? Nope.
Atlanta was not the worst team in the playoffs. Denver was, and by far. Whereas the Hawks play furiously on both ends, the Nuggets are the most obscenely indifferent defensive team the NBA has seen since Paul Westhead's one-way-only Nuggets of 90-91. Yes the current Nugs had that fine regular season record, but faced with intense playoff basketball they were pure lottery.
Utah was great this year but any Jazz fan will tell you the Lakers were the one match up they simply could not handle. The Jazz needed to be in the opposite bracket from LA. They could have taken anyone else in the West. Not Los Angeles. The first two rounds were gifts for the SoCal team.
The five game victory over the defending champs was more impressive. Yes the Lakers caught a late game break from the refs. Still, they came back from some huge deficits to arrive at the Finals. It was a very strong showing for them.
Everyone knows as a whole the West is better than the East. In some corners people are taking the depth of the Western Conference as proof the Lakers just ran off some sort of historical feat. Not true. Do not confuse overall depth with the strength of the top teams. There were seven good teams in the Western playoffs; not one is a top two team on this side of the big river.
For the purposes of degree-of-difficulty, reaching the finals from the East is a greater accomplishment. Why? Because the two best teams in basketball just played and Boston beat Detroit 4-2. The Pistons are better than San Antonio.
3) Level Of Play
Look, the Celtics ran away with the conference. They coasted in, giving lots of play to their bench. By the time the playoffs arrived they had lost a bit of their edge. They beat the Hawks despite playing poorly. They beat the Cavs despite playing only decently. They got their groove back a few games into the Detroit series, and that was that.
4) New Guys
There's another thing: It took some time for PJ Brown to reclaim his legs and game again. PJ seems to be fine now.
On the downside, Sam Cassell still hasn't made the adjustment. We'll see if that costs Boston.
I keep hearing about how great the LA bench is. Really? When did Luke become his Dad and Turiaf become Rodman? I mean they're good but not nearly great. The bench vs bench battle is up for grabs.
6) What Will Win It
Chances are this series comes down to one factor: Can the Lakers shred the best defense in the league the way they did the best defenses in the West? If they can, hats off, they win. But if the Celtics do to Los Angeles what they did to Detroit in the fourth quarter of game 6, what they did to LeBron for much of the Cleveland series, and frankly what they've done to everybody since Estaban Batista was yelling out "ubuntu" in Rome -which is SHUT PEOPLE DOWN- then Boston raises the banner.
7) Heard It Before
Since that game in Rome, through the preseason, before the first game against Washington, and through the whole season, all we've heard is how the Celtics can't win the next one.
They won't be able to play together.
They can't play defense (sheesh).
They haven't won on the road, against this team or that team, faced pressure; advanced in the past, with this coach, with these players; and on and on and on. It's a numbing buzz of nonsense that has not once let up.
Well let me tell you world, and let me tell you LA: THE CELTICS ARE HERE. They're here because they keep winning. They've overcome every obstacle. They've beaten every team. They have the best defense in the game. The Celtics are alive. They're dangerous. They're ready.
Wherever you look, there's an interesting match up in this series. Perkins is playing fantastic ball recently. He's a wildcard.
I imagine defensive assignments will change but if Gasol and KG cover one another, that means Perkins and Odom face off. That prospect is very intriguing. Power vs. finesse. It's a mini contest between two players who've been prone to mistakes in the past. Who imposes their will in this one?
In looking at the point guards you only get more questions. Experience against havoc. If Rondo pushes the jets all series long, this will be trouble for Los Angeles.
No need for me to comment much on the marquis guys. There's some great players for both sides in this series. No doubt you've already thought and read more than enough about them.
It's time. Good luck to one side. May the CELTICS WIN