It's widely understood that of the 4 main professional sports leagues in the United States, the NFL is king. Everyone else is fighting for second. So it's kind of funny that the NBA is taking a page out of the NFL's strategy of finally deciding on the two teams that will fight for the title and then making you wait an insanely long time to get it started. It's kind of funny. Except it's not.
The NFL only plays once a week, so one week or two weeks between the championship games and the Super Bowl (name trademarked by the NFL and being blatantly used here without permission) is frustrating but understandable. The NFL media hype machine can sustain an extra week without losing the interest of its audience. The NBA doesn't have that luxury.
The Lakers and the Celtics both punched their tickets to the NBA Finals this past weekend. What a historic matchup! What tradition! I can't wait to get it started and reminisce on the classic battles between Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird, Showtime and Blue Collar Grit, etc. I am so excited to start watching it . . . 6 days after the Finals matchup was set. With a schedule like this, the NBA is lucky that the matchup consists of the two most successful franchises in its history. Can you imagine how many people would have lost interest after 6 days to watch the Spurs and Pistons start a 7 game series? No offense to the Spurs or Pistons, but we saw that matchup 3 years ago. It didn't work out so well for ratings.
After an 82 game regular season that only this season in the Western Conference proved to be extremely important, and then a 4 round playoff system that lasts 2 1/2 months, the NBA needs to strike while the iron is hot. You have your glamour series that you dreamed about. Make some moves and get this thing started. Do you need to kick the circus out of the arena for a night? I'm sure those 50 clowns can wait in their VW bug a little longer. Got a huge concert in town? I'm sure that if Styx waited this long to get back together for some cash, they can wait another day. You could even let them sing the national anthem before a game to promote their concert that has been rescheduled and remind everyone that they used to rock hard.
If the wait is to keep from having the series run on weeknights, then they screwed that up, too. They are starting on a Thursday, which based on an every-other-day-game schedule, means that you will only have one weekend game until the series gets to game 5 or 6. If you are already making us wait 6 days, make us wait 7 and give me a Friday night and Sunday mattinee. In fact, the way they do have it scheduled, there are only 2 weekend games and only if it goes 7 games. And all the games start at 9:00 pm EST. I know it's summer time, school's out, but if you are trying to cultivate a new generation of NBA fans, i.e. kids with disposible income that want to buy $100 jerseys of their idols, don't put 5 of your possible 7 games on at 9:00 pm during the week where kids under the age of 10 will reach bedtime before the first half is over.
That's my rant. Now let's get down to business. Who wins, and who are the keys to the series?
It's hard to really say there are set matchups in this series, because there will be a lot of switching defensively. With that in mind, let's just say that it's Garnett vs. Gasol, Pierce vs. Odom, and Allen vs. Bryant. Then you have the role players vs. role players, and Coach Rivers vs. Coach Jackson. I think the key components in this series for each team is the production of Ray Allen (Celtics) and Lamar Odom (Lakers). Both of these guys disappeared for significant stretches in their conference finals. If Allen can regain his stroke consistently from outside, it will not allow Kobe to switch over to Pierce and also keep Kobe from being able to help in the paint defensively. If Odom can get back to his ways of filling up an entire box score, then it will force Pierce to give extra effort on both ends of the floor and try to wear him down.
I think that Garnett has the edge over Gasol, but Gasol's no slouch. Both are athletic enough to keep up with each other. Kobe has the edge over Pierce, but both are capable of giving you an epic 40 point game on any given night. So even though Allen and Odom won't be on each other much, I think that's your key matchup.
I will give the slight edge to the Lakers bench. Derek Fisher's veteran savvy and championship experience can rattle a young but talented Rajon Rondo. Kendrick Perkins has shown flashes that he might be able to muscle Vlad Radmanovic in the paint. Even if you call that a wash, the Lakers still have better role players off the bench.
I will say that I'm pulling for the Celtics. Pulling for the Lakers makes me feel icky in my stomach. I hope for the Celtic's sake that PJ Brown and Sam Cassell can bring them the veteran influence they need to hit clutch shots when needed while the starters are resting. With all that said, though, I'm going to predict Lakers in 6, which means they will be hoisting the trophy on Tuesday . . . 2 weeks from now. Enjoy the wait.