Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NBA Finals Preview Part I: Prediction

We begin our NBA Finals Preview of the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics by getting the dirty work out of the way. Here are our predictions.

Corndogg checks in via text message. Which is appropriate.

Corndogg: Lakers sweep. Kg n pierce go down in flames. Kobe is the greatest person evah.

Yeah, it's a Mensa operation around here.
Holly: Lakers in six... no, seven... yeah. Say seven.
I asked the Paroxiwife for her pick, and this is what she came up with:

My first thought on this match-up? It's classic East Side versus West Side: Biggie against Tupac; Boondock Saints and The Departed taking on Boyz in the Hood and Training Day. But when I really thought about it, I realized it's a classic Monet, to quote Clueless: pretty from far away, but once you get up close, it's a big old mess. And that's what I predict: a much messier, scrappier kind of ball than either of these teams are expecting- and certainly not one either show has built a reputation around, as fans have come to expect a certain kind of smoothness and ease from the both conference champs. This series will be one where the edges are forced to become sharper, and it'll be the team that is has the better structure underneath the smoothness that will hold up- the better fundamental design, no matter how crudely it ends up being demonstrated. After all, any table can have a good paint job, but it's the one that's made of sturdier wood and not laminate that can actually hold a trophy. But I'll say right now these aren't going to be games filled with beautiful moments and graceful arcs; they'll be games filled with grit and rawness, bruises and blood. Matt pointed out that all of my East Side versus West Side comparisons involve murder and this one won't live up to that standard. My response: maybe not, but it'll be the team that comes closest to it that wins. And I've got to hand the edge to Boston- after all, according to the history books, they have years more experience killing people on east coast.

(Matt said I had to say a number of games I predict. Hell if I know, but the fewer the better to prevent murder in the Casa de Paroxi. Hopefully 5 or 6 though; any sports final deserves better than a sweep.)
Finally, here's my own feelings on the Finals.
Matt: Celtics in Six.

Okay, Lakers fans. Put down the knives, and tear gas, and pitchforks. Okay, more accurately, put down the cosmopolitans, lipstick, and tanning solution. Hear me out.

Let's go ahead and say this. The Los Angeles Lakers have been better in the playoffs than any other team in the NBA. They have played with tremendous poise, passion, and executed nearly flawlessly. Kobe Bryant has made me regret every single moment this season where I argued against his MVP candidacy and has quite simply, been really, really fun to watch. They're executing on all cylinders, have a far superior coach in Phil Jackson ( not that they need much for the edge), and have been dominant through three rounds in the toughest Western Conference in years. It's not a matter of disrespect that forces me to pick against them. And here's the kicker.

I truly believe the Lakers are the better team.

When Gasol, Odom, and Bryant are clicking, there's simply no way to counter their offense. Furthermore, this team simply believes it is destined for greatness. You can tell by the swagger, by the way they rally around each other, by the way they never believe they're down. Compare that with a Celtics team that's essentially been underperforming for the last two months. A team who has one third of its big three suffering with being largely ineffective, and who's star point guard is going to be huge or invisible depending on the phase of the moon.

Yup. Lakers are definitely the better team.

I know, I know, so I'm either a lunatic or an idiot for thinking the Celtics are going to win, right? Or perhaps you're assuming I'll go for the deceptively predictable "Kobe will screw this up" route. No, no. I expect Bryant to be positively sublime.

It's a rare combination of what I've touched on before and an element unique to this series. I've mentioned that this is the year of the sensible, of the obvious. And while LA is obviously very, very good, the Celtics were obviously the best team in the league this year. I don't mean that in the "there's no debate about it" sense of obvious, but in the "upon first look" sense. The Lakers are much more subtle, with their deep bench, the ebb and flow of Kobe and Odom, and the intricate mind games Jackson plays. But the Celtics have Garnett, Allen, and Pierce, a good bench, and play great defense.

The more specific reason relevant to this series lies a complicated series of matchups you're well familiar with at this point. Pierce will kill anyone who's not Kobe guarding him, Garnett is going to drink Pau's milkshake and make Gasol clean the glass for him. And despite what some people think, Rajon Rondo is going to kill Derek Fisher. I think Jordan Farmar will have a huge advantage on him, since Rondo suffers with fast guards, but he's not likely to get the majority of minutes. Throw in the face that the Celtics have already dealt with the "player you have to constantly double on the perimeter" conundrum, though Bryant presents more and unique problems. Kobe's going to get his.

I see Boston taking two, then LA taking two, and then Boston taking two.

Boston's a fitting champion for this season, an ushering in of a new era, as they are not one of the teams to win a championship this decade. The Lakers will, of course, be back, as early as next year, but this series belongs to Boston. After being executed by Karmic retribution in the SuperBowl, Boston fans are approaching this season with a greater sense of propriety, and it will pay off for them. Conversely, LA's assumption that they'll win, "because they're LA" will be their doom. This team has to learn it has to scrap for every possession, it has to battle for every point, it's got to thrive on defending the best. They're not there yet, no matter how well they've played.

I called Washington over Cleveland, and Dallas over New Orleans, both of which were reasonable mistakes at the time. Since then I've been perfect, and I expect that to continue in the Finals. The Celtics are re-peaking at the right time, and even I'll say it. Watching KG cry over that trophy is going to be something truly amazing.

This series ushers in a renaissance of the NBA to the casual fan. It's go time.

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