Don’t listen to me – I’m the guy who picked the Hawks over the Magic. And now I’m picking a team that couldn’t beat the Hawks once in four tries to win the NBA title.
I say again: Don’t listen to me.
My reasons — this assumes somebody is still listening, which nobody should be — is that the Boston Celtics simply outnumber the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics have four excellent players: Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo. The Lakers have two: Bryant, Gasol. (I do not include Lamar Odom, or Ron Artest, or Andrew Bynum — they’re good players.)
The Celtics aren’t nearly as good as they were two seasons ago when they won the championship, but the Lakers aren’t as good as they were in their title run of last spring/summer. The Rasheed Wallace Experiment didn’t really work in Boston, but Artest — except for one putback of an air ball in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, a game in which he made a total of two hoops — has dragged down the Lakers more.
Artest is no longer a reliable scorer, and he’s not quite the defender he was. He is, in sum, just another guy. The Lakers were better with Trevor Ariza, who left for Houston, on the wing. He gave them quickness and finishing power. Without him there’s no Showtime to L.A.: There’s just an aging starting five that waits on Kobe to do something wondrous.
The Celtics are old, too, but they’re young at point guard. And there’s your difference. Rajon Rondo cannot be guarded by any Laker. (If you assign Artest to him, who takes Ray Allen?) Rondo was the reason the Celtics upset Cleveland and Orlando. Rondo has been the MVP of these players, and who would have imagined that?
It’s weird. These Celtics won only 50 games, which is seven fewer than the Lakers and three fewer than the Hawks. This Boston team would be, on the record, the worst NBA champion since the 1995 Houston Rockets, who were 47-35. (The 1999 Spurs won 37, but the season was shortened to 50 games by the player lockout.)
And yet: These Celtics have reached the finals having lost only five games as a No. 4 seed; two years ago, the overall No. 1 seed, which was 66-16 in the regular season, lost eight games en route to the title round, having been forced to Game 7’s by both the Hawks and the Cavaliers.
Did I see this coming? Absolutely not. I thought Boston might well lose to Miami in Round 1. I thought the Celtics were too old, too cantankerous. (They were 23-5 on Christmas Day, 27-27 thereafter.) I thought they were the worst of the East’s Big Four by some distance, but they’re still playing. And they’ve just beaten two teams better than the Lakers.
Ergo, Celtics in six. But pay no attention to anything I say.