#4 Boston Celtics
(50-32, 1st place in Atlantic Division)
#1 Los Angeles Lakers
(57-25, 1st place in Pacific Division)
How They Got Here: All of the biggest powerhouses in the Eastern Conference came calling thinking that they were going to dispose of the C’s in easy fashion, but both the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers are now watching the NBA Finals while Boston is playing in it. Even though the Celtics ran up against some adversity in the Eastern Conference Finals after taking a 3-0 series lead against the Magic, they finally closed it out in Game 6 at home.
Player To Watch: When push really comes to shove, “The Truth” is the man that is going to be called upon for the Celtics. F Paul Pierce has averaged 19.1 points per game in the playoffs, and he came up with two 30+ point efforts including going for 31 points and 13 rebounds in the closeout Game 6 against Orlando.
X-Factor: Unfortunately for HC Doc Rivers, the X-Factor in this series might be keeping his team calm. F Rasheed Wallace can lose his mind and pick up technical fouls at any given moment, but the bigger concern is C Kendrick Perkins, who is one ‘T’ away from getting suspended for a game in the NBA Finals.
Key To Victory: Defense, defense, defense. The Celtics used their strength to stifle Orlando’s offensive attack, particularly in the paint. The bigs for Boston are going to have to find a way to control the post players for the Lakers to have any chance of winning the NBA Championship for the second time in three years.
Los Angeles Lakers
How They Got Here: Playing on the road in Games 3 and 4 haven’t been kind to the Lakers in these playoffs, but when push comes to shove, they are perfect in closeout games on the road. LA disposed of the Phoenix Suns in six games to send it to its third straight NBA Finals.
Player To Watch: When you average 29.4 points per game in the playoffs and come up just short of having three straight triple-doubles, you’re going to be in the spotlight, especially when your name is G Kobe Bryant. Bryant has had four straight 30+ point games, in three of which he scored at least 36. There may not be a player in the history of the NBA that you’d rather have on your team down the stretch when you need a big shot, and Bryant is inevitably going to have to play the role of closer for the Lakers once again against these Celtics.
X-Factor: C Andrew Bynum’s knee injury is going to be critical in this series. Hopefully for his sake, taking five days off can help heal his ailing knee and can have a positive effect in this series. However, after having three games of four points or less in the offensive series against the Suns and not scoring more than 13 points in any of the six games, it’s hard to see how Bynum is going to be able to get over it in time to really have a great influence on HC Phil Jackson’s game plan.
Key To Victory: As long as Kobe is Kobe, nothing else may matter. However, someone else is going to have to step it up and take over the game in certainly situations, just as G Ron Artest did when he hit the game winning shot in Game 5 against the Suns. Still, this is Bryant’s world that we’re all just watching, and Boston won’t be able to find a way to stop him or the men in purple and gold if he is on.
The Final Word: There’s just too much talent on the Lakers to lose this series. Bryant looks like a man on a mission right now, and we tend to believe that Games 1 and 2 in Tinseltown will set up a disappointing 2-1 effort in Beantown. This time, LA will get to celebrate a championship in front of its own fans.
Lakers in 6