The Lakers and Celtics are on a crash course for an NBA championship rematch. I know it might be hard to believe at the moment with the Cavs dominating in the east and the Nuggets looking like the better team in the West, but believe it.
With both winning game five in their respective series last night, the Lakers and Celts displayed their championship pedigree which in my book, is why they should be the favorites to advance to the NBA championship in 2009. Why you ask? Well, I'll tell you.
Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers are the two best coaches remaining in the playoffs. Both continue to put their players in a position to succeed, as displayed in last nights wins. Jackson -realizing his mistake in game four - went big against the Yao-less Rockets. Starting both seven footers (Gasol and Bynum) and the 6-8 Trever Ariza, the Lakers dominated in the paint from the get go.
Doc Rivers continues to make the best of a difficult situation with Garnett out for the postseason. Rivers knows how to get the most out of the remaining players, including Eddie House, Glen Davis, and Stephon Marbury. Assuming the Celts advance, expect Rivers to have a solid gameplan drawn up for his team designed to slow down Lebron and make the rest of the Cavs roster beat them. In a seven game series, my money is still on the Celtics.
In contrast, George Karl and Mike Brown are solid - but not spectacular coaches. Karl's teams have exited in the first round in 7 of his last 8 postseason appearances, with the lone exception being the 52 win Bucks team that was bounced in the Conference finals. Mike Brown has just three seasons under his belt as a head coach, and although he has made the playoffs in all three, his postseason record was just 25-20 prior to this year, twice losing in the conference semi's. He did take the Cavs to the finals in 2007, but the east was weak that year, and he was clearly outcoached by Greg Popovich in a 4-0 series loss to the Spurs.
I'll admit, the Cavs are deep this year, much more than in years past, but I still like the Celtics and Lakers to get better play off the bench in the conference finals. Let's take a look at the benches to see how they stack up:
Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and Sasha Vujacic.
Celtics: Stephon Marbury, Eddie House, Brian Scalabrine, and Mikki Moore.
Cavaliers: Joe Smith, Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, and Sasha Pavlovic.
Nuggets: Chris Anderson, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Carter, and Linas Kleiza.
As I said, the Cavs bench may end up playing well against the Celtics, but I still give Boston the edge. As for the Nuggets, I don't see how they keep up with the Lakers in a seven game series. This ain't Dallas we're talking about. When the starters rest in that series, the Lakers will be adding to their lead.
Nuggets and Cavs are overrated
Before you fly off the handle, let me say that I respect what Cleveland did this year in the regular season - especially at home - but I still don't think that they're as good as advertised. I'd like to be impressed by their sweeps over the Pistons and Hawks, but I'm not. Neither of those teams showed up, and I have little doubt that the Celtics and Lakers would have easily dispatched these teams if given the chance. In contrast, how would the Cavs be doing if their first two rounds were against the Jazz and Rockets? Hard to say for sure, but my guess is that they would still be playing instead of resting.
As for the Nuggets, they're the flavor of the month. The acquisition of Chauncy Billups has certainly made them a better team this year, but let's not forget that these guys had the same amount of wins in the regular season as the Blazers who are long gone. Add to that their 21-20 road record this season and it's hard to see how they're going to compete with the Lakers in a full seven game series. Granted, Denver has looked like a contender while playing the Mavs, but beating the Mavs in the postseason isn't exactly an indicator of future success.
The fact is, we would all like to see Kobe vs. Lebron in the finals this year. I want it, you want it, and the NBA wants it so bad it can taste it. But I don't know if we'll get it. Conventional wisdom says that we will, but my gut tells me that we're much more likely to see a Boston - LA rematch. I hope I'm wrong, really I do, but I don' think that I will be. All things considered, these are my final predictions for the conference finals:
-Lakers over Nuggets in five
-Celtics over Cavaliers in seven
I'm sure that you all agree with me (tongue planted firmly in cheek), but just in case you don't, I'll open up the floor for arguments sake. Discuss amongst yourselves.