I won’t inundate readers with the history that exists between these two legendary franchises. The longest running rivalry in the NBA has been rekindled over the past five seasons with the Boston Celtics defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals behind their big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, winning the clinching game by 39 points.
2010 was a different story, however, with the Lakers returning the favor coming back from a three games to two deficit to stun Boston in seven games. Despite Kobe Bryant shooting 6-24 from the field in the deciding, the Lakers dominated the boards and overwhelmed the Celtics with their size in the paint along with some heroics from the man formerly known as Ron Artest.
The Lakers won both contests between the two teams last season but only by a combined four points meaning that these games could have just as easily ended in Boston’s favor. With both teams looking drastically different heading into the 2012-13 NBA season, I don’t envision last season’s results having much bearing in future games between these long time bitter rivals. Players from both teams have a mutual admiration yet hatred for one another and this could very well be a preview of the 2013 NBA Finals.
Rajon Rondo/Dionte Christmas vs. Steve Nash/Steve Blake/Darius Morris
In any other NBA off-season, the addition of Steve Nash would be the marquee acquisition for the Los Angeles Lakers. Even if he has taken a backseat to Dwight Howard in the press, Nash solves the Lakers biggest weakness which was their spotty point guard production. Even at the age of 38, he is seemingly defying father time and still playing basketball at a high level, almost leading a mediocre Phoenix Suns supporting cast to the NBA playoffs last season while averaging 12.5 points and 10.7 assists a contest, which was good for second in the league.
With an obvious upgrade in personnel at his disposal, I expect Nash to thrive playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace even if there is a period of transition where players adjust to one another. The two-time MVP and eight-time All-Star keeps himself in excellent shape and will be highly motivated to win his first NBA title.
The number one assist man in the NBA during the 2011-2012 season however plays for the Boston Celtics. Rajon Rondo dropped 11.7 dimes a game last season and watching his improvement from year to year has been a special experience. Rondo because of how the Lakers have defended him in the past tends to score more than his usual output when the two teams meet. In two matchups against L.A., Rondo averaged 19 points a game but this came at the cost of his assists total.
While Rondo averaged 8.5 assists in the two games which would be a good amount for most other facilitators, this is well below his season averages. The Lakers do an effective job making Rondo a scorer instead of a distributor which is his preferred role. Kobe Bryant and other Laker guards who have been assigned to guard Rajon Rondo are notorious for being five to six feet off him, daring Rajon to shoot jumpers and limiting his drives to the basket.
Steve Blake is the primary back-up point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. An old college friend of mine that I used to play basketball with coined the acronym “STD” which is short for scared to death. I know when one thinks STD’s their mind immediately turns to sex but STD is a perfect way to describe how Steve Blake has played basketball since joining the Lakers in 2010. While Mitch Kupchak has done an excellent job as GM for the Lakers, Steve Blake is most likely a signing he would like to have back.
Blake’s once reliable three point shot betrayed him this past season as he only shot 33.5 percent from downtown, more disturbing is the fact that he has never shot better than 38 percent from the field in his two seasons in Los Angeles. Darius Morris though he has potential had an underwhelming rookie season in 2011-12 and is the next alternative for the Lakers.
The Celtics do not have a clearly defined back-up for Rajon Rondo, but Dionte Christmas is capable of playing the point in stretches, as is Jason Terry. Even with the lack of a clear cut back-up for Rondo, you can’t do much worse than Steve Blake. Rondo and Nash are fairly even as starters but the reserves for each team swing this matchup in favor of Boston.
Advantage: Boston Celtics
Avery Bradley/Courtney Lee/Jason Terry vs. Kobe Bryant/Jodie Meeks
While the Celtics have enviable depth at the two-guard position, the best shooting guard in the NBA is currently employed by the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston does have the luxury of giving Kobe different looks defensively, Avery Bradley is already an elite level defensive player and Courtney Lee is also fearless at that end. However, Jason Terry stands no chance in a matchup against Bryant and will likely have to cross match and guard whoever the Lakers are playing at the point.
Kobe’s size and skill level will give anyone fits that has the misfortune of guarding him. Doc Rivers defensive schemes have given Kobe problems in the past and the Celtics always make Bryant work hard for his baskets.
Even still, Bryant is still playing at a high level and averaged 26.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent from the field in the two wins against Boston last season.
Jodie Meeks is an underrated acquisition by the Lakers, his ability to spread the court will make him an integral piece off the bench and is a solid defender. Meeks for his career is a 37.1 percent three-point shooter and should be able to get plenty of open looks with the firepower the Lakers have on offense.
Advantage: Los Angeles Lakers
Paul Pierce/Jeff Green vs. Metta World Peace/Devin Ebanks
In my opinion, this small forward matchup is the reason the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 2010 over the Boston Celtics, Ron Artest err.. Metta World Peace’s defense on Paul Pierce in Games 6 and 7 was nothing short of masterful, holding “The Truth” to 15.5 points on 37.9 percent shooting over the final two games of the series.
While Pierce at this stage of his career is the better player, World Peace has a track record of giving Paul a hard time, including feeling obligated to perform an ode to Pierce after one of their matchups dating back to World Peace’s days as an Indiana Pacer. It is always fun when these two all-star caliber players go at it, both are notorious trash talkers and relish the challenge of going against one another.
I happen to like the backups for both starters in this matchup. For the Celtics, Jeff Green has great size as a small forward and has a well-rounded game. He may take a while to get back into the groove of things as he is recovering from heart surgery which required him to miss the entire 2011-2012 NBA season. When utilized correctly however, he has proven to be an effective player.
Devin Ebanks has the potential to be Trevor Ariza like off the bench for the Lakers and even looks like him. Ebanks is a lanky wing player who has great defensive instincts and is a very good rebounder. In my estimation, he is a solid athlete who is a consistent jumper away from seriously threatening Metta World Peace for the starting small forward spot.
Advantage: Boston Celtics
Brandon Bass/Chris Wilcox/Jared Sullinger vs. Pau Gasol/Antawn Jamison
Pau Gasol’s length in this matchup will prove to be very problematic for the Boston Celtics to contend with. Gasol was very effective against the Celtics last season, averaging 19 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4 assists in their two matchups. Gasol stands 7 feet tall and has a four inch height advantage over the shorter Brandon Bass. While Bass is competent defensively, this is a matchup the Lakers can exploit relatively easily. Gasol is a willing passer out of the post and if the Celtics elect to throw double teams at Pau, it will create opportunities for other Lakers to hit easy shots.
The Lakers have quality depth at the power forward spot, Antawn Jamison was acquired as a free agent to add some scoring punch off the bench. Jamison though coming off a poor shooting season with the Cleveland Cavaliers is still a matchup problem for most power forwards. He’s a crafty scorer who has the ability to stretch the floor.
Jared Sullinger has the chance to be an impactful rookie for the Boston Celtics with his strong rebounding presence and ability to score around the basket. His health is the main concern as he has a bad back which caused his draft stock to plummet. Chris Wilcox is a good athlete who will provide energy off the bench but is not very skilled otherwise. This matchup is clearly in favor of the Lakers.
Advantage: Los Angeles Lakers
Kevin Garnett/Darko Milicic/Jason Collins/Fab Melo vs. Dwight Howard/Jordan Hill
Dwight Howard after pissing most NBA fans off in the process of his indecision is finally a Los Angeles Laker. His impact will be most felt on the defensive end, where the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is expected to shore up a Lakers defense that was already pretty good despite their difficulty guarding uber-athletic point guards. He is also as good a rebounder as there is in the NBA and should get many easy pick and roll baskets playing alongside Steve Nash.
Kevin Garnett much like Dwight Howard is also an elite defensive presence. Boston has annually been a top defensive team since KG arrived in Beantown in 2007-08 and while he has lost some athleticism, the move to the center position seems to have reinvigorated him. KG’s mid-range game can be very useful in this matchup as he can take Dwight Howard away from patrolling the paint.
For the Boston Celtics, Darko Milicic, Jason Collins and Fab Melo are all in contention for minutes as backups to KG. Most likely Milicic will be the main backup and despite his reputation as a 2003 draft day bust, Darko is a good shot blocker and can be useful off the bench.
Jason Collins is actually serviceable in this matchup as he is big enough to guard Dwight Howard without help and has experienced success guarding him in the past. Fab Melo is extremely raw and is not expected to contribute much as a rookie for the Celtics.
For the Lakers, Jordan Hill is a high-energy big man who is a great rebounder. He isn’t much of a scorer but is capable of hitting a short jumper and should be a valuable contributor off the bench. Overall, the Lakers have the advantage at the center position though it is not as pronounced of an edge as it would be against other teams.
Advantage: Los Angeles Lakers
Doc Rivers vs. Mike Brown
All things considered, I thought Mike Brown did a pretty good job in his first season as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. With a very short off-season to implement his system, Brown led the Lakers to a 41-25 record and the third seed in the Western Conference despite numerous distractions.
The vetoed Chris Paul trade which led to Lamar Odom being traded to Dallas and the nauseating Pau Gasol trade rumors made it an eventful season in Los Angeles in 2011-12 and Brown did a nice job weathering the storm.
The expectations are different though in 2012-13 and it is championship or bust for the Lakers with the new additions they have added this off-season.
With that being said, Doc Rivers gives Boston the edge in coaching. He consistently brings out the best in his players despite the surrounding circumstances and will do his due diligence to relive the glory of 2008.
Advantage: Boston Celtics
I see this series being a battle of wills. The NBA’s two most historic teams going at it and so much at stake, the Boston Celtics have 17 championships and the Los Angeles Lakers have 16 of their own. Will Kobe tie Jordan in rings? Will Steve Nash win his first title? Do KG and Paul Pierce walk off into the sunset bringing the Celtics back to glory?
I believe the Lakers size down low will be the defining difference, LA has dominated Boston in rebounding in past seasons and I don’t expect that trend to change. Boston does have advantages of their own but in a low-scoring series as I anticipate this being, the team that will win the rebound battle will win the series.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers in 7