Why the Lakers will win the Finals
Click here for five reasons why the Celtics will win the NBA Finals.
BOSTON -- Celtics forward Paul Pierce seemed irritated earlier this week to learn most experts were picking the Lakers to win the NBA Finals.
"People look at us as underdogs, even though we've had the best record all year and beat the Lakers twice," he said.
The Celtics, behind their Big Three, indeed dominated during the regular season. They feature the league's top defense and three All-Stars hungry for their first rings. They also have home-court advantage and the ghost of Red Auerbach floating around the TD Banknorth Garden.
So why all the love for Hollywood's team?
Well, it might have something to do with the fact that the Celtics needed seven games to get past the Hawks in the first round and seven more to dispose of the Cavaliers in Round 2. Or that Ray Allen has slumped most of the playoffs. Or that Allen, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and, perhaps most important, coach Doc Rivers will be making their first appearances on the Finals stage.
Or it could just be that nobody wants to bet against Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. Count me in that camp. Here are five reasons why the Lakers will win:
1. Kobe Bryant will be in control.
He's the MVP. He's on a mission. But as we all know by now, there is also that small matter of how Allen dissed Kobe a few years ago for running off Shaquille O'Neal. Oh, boy. The Celtics better hope Kobe gets so geeked up about showing up Allen that he turns it into a one-on-one thing.
Don't count on it. Kobe has been much better this season about playing within the team concept and trusting his teammates.
Boston actually did a good job against Kobe during the regular season, using Garnett to shut off the lane and employing a team approach to keep the Lakers' superstar on the perimeter. Kobe wound up making just 15-of-46 shots, mostly from long range, while recording six assists. But, again, that was the regular season; Kobe wants this one too much.
2. The Zen Master has an edge.
Jackson is gunning for a record 10th title as a coach. Many believe this has been the best coaching job of his career, or at least his best work with a Finals team. But what really stands out here is that he is 9-1 all time in the Finals. He just has a way of getting his teams prepared for these series and making the necessary adjustments.
Rivers has done a solid job with these Celtics, but the Finals are often rough on coaches with limited big-game experience. Just ask former Dallas coach Avery Johnson. Rivers' rotation was out of whack down the stretch, and he has been slow to make adjustments to get the offense going during the postseason. That won't cut it against Jackson and these Lakers.
3. The Bench Mob gives the Lakers plenty in reserve.
Lakers reserves Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf and Jordan Farmar might not be as well-known to casual NBA fans as their more experienced Boston counterparts (James Posey, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown), but they have played a huge role all season. The L.A. bench could get an additional boost from Trevor Ariza, who has been working his way back into shape after sitting out the last four months of the regular season with a foot injury. If healthy, he could provide an additional quality defender on Pierce.
The bench's versatility, energy and shotmaking will give Jackson options and force Boston to stay honest on Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. In a series featuring two good defenses, the bench could be huge. The Lakers just have more firepower for those inevitable times when the game bogs down and scoring becomes a grind.
4. The Lakers have the long arms and fresh legs.
The Lakers have three frontcourt starters taller than 6-9, giving them more length around the basket. They also have more quickness, with Bryant, Odom, Walton, Vujacic and Farmar all quick, high-energy types who like to push the pace. The Celtics' Big Three is relatively slower, with KG (32), Pierce (30) and Allen (32) all getting up in age. Meanwhile, Boston's bench relies heavily on two 38-year-olds in Cassell and Brown.
This is where Boston's difficulties in finishing off the Hawks and the Cavs (before beating the Pistons in six games) earlier in the playoffs will come back to haunt them. The Lakers, who breezed past the Nuggets, Jazz and Spurs, will be the fresher team -- especially late in the series. It will enable L.A. to come up with the loose balls, long rebounds and hustle plays that so often decide close games.
5. It's a new look for the Lakers.
Don't read too much into Boston's 2-0 record vs. L.A. in the regular season. Last year the Cavs beat the Spurs both times in the regular season only to get swept in the Finals. More important, both of this year's L.A.-Boston meetings came before the Lakers acquired Gasol.
The Lakers are a different team with Gasol. His predecessor at center, Andrew Bynum, was a 20-year-old, third-year pro who was just starting to come into his own when the teams met during the season. He operated almost exclusively in the low post. Gasol is an eight-year veteran and a former All-Star who has won a world championship with his native Spain. He can work either block as well as the high post, and he's an excellent passer. As long as he does not play timidly, Gasol will provide the Lakers with a huge edge.
The Celtics really haven't seen this version of the Lakers. It will take them a game or two to adjust. In a seven-game series, that could be a significant factor.
Prediction: Lakers in six games. (Click here for more predictions from SI.com's NBA writers.)