So the 2008 NBA boils down to two teams: the Lakers and Celtics. Even though they represent the league’s most storied rivalry, the current teams have no bad blood between each other. Well except for the Kobe Bryant-Ray Allen rivalry from a few years ago. But this incarnation of the Lakers and Celtics don’t have the history of the previous rivalries. In fact for the last few seasons neither team was relevant in the NBA landscape. Los Angeles had 3 years of mediocrity following the Shaquille O’Neal trade. And Boston suffered for a decade and a half since Larry Bird retired.
Nevertheless both teams have something to prove. For the Celtic veteran trio of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen a championship would give each of them personal validation after years of playing for bad teams. For the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, a championship would help him shed his image as a malcontent who isn’t good enough to win a title as the centerpiece.
It’s hard to gauge this series because both teams are phoenixical; dead teams that were recently reborn. Boston was rebuilt entirely over the summer, with the acquisitions of Garnett, Allen, House, and Posey. And most of the pieces that were already there like Rondo, Perkins, and Powe were developing young players. Meanwhile the Lakers had their own reconstruction and player emergence. Farmar, Vujacic, Bynum, and Turiaf were all drafted in recent years. And of course they grabbed Pau Gasol in a midseason swap with Memphis. There’s not much to go on recent history for either team.
Each team has something in its favor. The Celtics had the edge going into the playoffs winning 66 games in the regular season, 9 more than the Lakers. But the regular season advantage could be offset by the Gasol trade. And Los Angeles has had a better run in the playoffs, losing only 3 games total to Boston’s 8.
For the last few weeks I’ve been competing in TrueHoop’s Geek Smackdown, and after last year’s poor showing I decided to go strictly with the numbers. My gut is telling me that Gasol has given Los Angeles a Rasheed Wallace-like increase in performance. And that’s nearly cemented in my right brain by the Lakers’ breeze through the playoffs. However my left brain keeps telling me that Boston has the edge. Not only do they own the home court advantage, but they had the superior 2008 season. Even including the playoffs, the Celtics record is still superior to the Lakers. Additionally the Lakers haven’t been much better since the Gasol trade. They won 69.2% of their games before acquiring Gasol, and 69.8% after the deal.
So I’m sticking with my promise and going with the numbers. I’ll be taking the Celtics in 6, and crossing my fingers.