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News » Who is the real team of destiny here? 2008-04-19


Who is the real team of destiny here? 2008-04-19


Who is the real team of destiny here? 2008-04-19
This is not about a time warp, or the NBA days of yore when Lakers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were annually stuck in a maze of futility against Bill Russell's Celtics.

It isn't about the storied Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry either -- a time when the Lakers finally broke through against the Celtics to win an NBA title in Los Angeles (for the record, they won five in Minneapolis before moving to the West Coast in 1961).

That was then. This is now.

2008 NBA playoffs


Saturday's games

  • Magic take 3-1 series lead
  • Lakers roll to 3-0 series lead
  • Hawks cut Celts' lead to 2-1
  • Jazz edge Rockets in SLC

Analysis

  • Rosen: Nelson keys Magic victory
  • Kahn: PGs key to these playoffs
  • Hill: Suns fans growing restless
  • Rosen: Dirk, Dallas avoid disaster
  • Kahn: New life for T-Mac, Rockets
  • Behrendt: Kobe on top of his game
  • Kahn: Shortage of drama so far
  • Rosen: Pistons make a statement
  • Rosenberg: Byron Scott's revenge
  • Kriegel: Can Nash win title?
  • Western Conference playoff central
  • Eastern Conference playoff central

Photos

  • Best shots from the first round

Video

  • J-Smooth, Hawks beat C's
  • Orlando's magic ride continues

We're talking about the Kevin Garnett's Celtics and Kobe Bryant's Lakers, circa 2008.

There is a sense of destiny for them to meet in the Finals come June, even if there is a real possibility neither will even win their respective conferences. But both teams earned their No. 1 seeds, and are eminently capable of carrying that all the way to a championship trophy.

Deciding on which team will come away with the trophy is the unenviable task here.

Whereas nobody is surprised with the way the Celtics have performed this season, few, if any, anticipated the Lakers coming out of the West with the top seed. Coming into training camp, Bryant had been demanding a trade, owner Jerry Buss got angry in the media, and there seemed little chance that the Lakers would coalesce.

Instead, coach Phil Jackson's steady hand developed the bench into one of the best in the league, 20-year-old center Andrew Bynum turned into a double-double machine, and Derek Fisher returned as a free agent for veteran leadership and the dead-eye 3-pointer as the starting point guard. And Lamar Odom continued his uneven role of flashing greatness then disappearing. It was good enough to contend amid the incredibly close top nine teams in the West until Bynum went down with a knee injury in January.

That changed everything.

That's when general manager Mitch Kupchak waved his magic wand to come up with Pau Gasol from Memphis to man the low post. Dealing Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and two first-round draft picks didn't put a dent in the rotation and Gasol fit in as if he'd been there for years. It gave Bryant more options and opened an entirely new pathway for Odom to play the best ball of his career. And the Lakers took off. With Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf and Vladimir Radmanovic contributing in various degrees to the success, the sailing has been surprisingly smooth.

Invariably, it comes down to Bryant, but because of Gasol's presence and ability to feed both Bryant and Odom out of the post, pressure has been relieved from all three. It has created a special chemistry. Bynum still hasn't returned and isn't likely to, but why should he? At his age, the uncertainty of returning from a dislocated and severely bruised kneecap could cause more harm than good at this point. (Next season, however, the front line of Gasol, Odom and Bynum should be unstoppable, but that's a different story). Consequently, Bryant has emerged as a virtual lock to win his first MVP award.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have breezed through the Eastern Conference, just as anticipated once Danny Ainge ended his plight of building a team of teenagers. He coerced his former Celtic teammate and Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale to deal him Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green and two draft choices. And that came after he dealt the rights to fifth overall pick in the draft Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to Seattle for super-shooter Ray Allen.

That set up All-Star Paul Pierce with two partners, and coach Doc Rivers had the great vision to turn up the heat defensively. Ainge went out and helped the cause again with versatile free agent James Posey in perhaps the most unsung move. Plus, Ainge refused to let young point guard Rajon Rondo go in any of the deals, and his on-the-ball pressure has set the tone with Garnett patrolling the back line next to young center Kendrick Perkins. Eddie House gave them points from the bench, Leon Powe developed as a force up front as a reserve as well, and they meshed quickly.

So along with the superstar scoring skills of Garnett, Pierce and Allen, they have the best defense in the game. No wonder they became the only team to sweep Texas this season. No wonder they have the best record overall by far. Topping it off for playoff purposes, Ainge brought in P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell late for wisdom and insurance.

It almost seems easy to pick these two teams to meet in the Finals . . . except for two reasons.

  • The Detroit Pistons have been to the Eastern Conference finals five years in a row.

  • The defending champion San Antonio Spurs have won the NBA title three of the past five years.

    There is no guarantee either of those teams will even make it to the conference finals. But if they do, they will not go down easily.

    You see, we had to bring them up just to be responsible under these circumstances. We'll stick with this gut feeling about the Lakers and Celtics, and hope that funny feeling isn't the sushi from dinner.

    As for your 2008 NBA champion, well, we can look at Jackson seeking his NBA record 10th NBA title or Rivers hoping to earn his first. We can count ring No. 4 for Bryant (but his all-important first without Shaquille O'Neal), or consider what it would be like for Garnett to win a title.

    Both teams have depth, and comparing Gasol and Odom to Pierce and Allen doesn't really work either.

    So we will go with the sushi, uh, gut feeling. It just seems as if the first decade of the 21st century in pro sports has been all about the Boston area, so that translates into the Celtics winning the 2008 NBA championship.

    How's that for a strong conviction?


  • Author: Fox Sports
    Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
    Added: April 19, 2008

     

     
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