By Craig Kwasniewski
The Los Angeles Lakers
No seriously, check the record books, look at the banner in Staples Center or just ask Kobe. As hard as this sounds, the Lakers are the defending champs. I know, I know... that's crazy. But if you'll just do me a solid, look at your calendar and tell me what day it is cause I know for sure it's not June 2008... no matter what the national media wants you to think.
Let me say that again: THIS IS AIN'T 2008!!!
Yet that's all I hear. The Lakers need to watch out for those big bad Celtics. The Big Three ran roughshod over LA in 2008 and now Rajon Rondo is playing like the bestestest player in NBA playoff history so why even play the Finals? Rinse, wash and repeat... the Lakers have no chance.
But wait there's more: Rasheed Wallace will destroy Pau Gasol. Glen Davis is an offensive stalwart that will shock and awe the mediocre Lakers bench. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will contain Kobe. Rondo will be a combination of MJ and Magic and embarrass the Lakers. Bynum is too hurt to matter. Artest will freak out and sabotage the Lakers. Phil Jackson will succumb to the ghost of Red Auerbach and lose his concentration. Rinse, wash and repeat... the Lakers have no chance.
I love the national media. You guys have no clue what's going on so you break out the playoff talking points. Show the Rambis clothesline again, talk about storied franchises, compare this rivalry to the Yankees-Red Sox in case we can't grasp the concept and talk extensively about 2008. Talk about how physical the Celtics were, talk about how good their defense was, talk about their cohesion as a team, talk about Game 5 and blown leads, talk about Paul Pierce's Finals MVP and talk about Kevin Garnett's intimidation and leadership. Rinse, wash and repeat... the Lakers have no chance.
Let me say this again: THIS IS AIN'T 2008!!!
I also love that the national media completely forgot about 2009. Lest we forget, it's the Lakers that are the defending champs. They rebounded from a devestating 2008 NBA Finals to claw, scratch and fight their way through the entire season and capture the title. Boston got old and hurt and couldn't get out of the second round. Boston was swept by LA in the regular season. Boston lost their swagger in '09. But forget all of that. It makes bad copy to remember that it's LA with their THIRD straight trip to the finals or that they properly defended their championship also through a season of injuries and age.
THIS IS AIN'T 2008!!!
We'll let the games speak for themselves, but Boston's lone advantage over their 2008 team is Rondo's play. And really, let's be VERY specific, he destroyed Cleveland but was more 2010 regular season Rondo against Orlando. Meaning good/great but not the iconic point guard of the millennium like the Boston media was saying. Besides Rondo, the rest of Boston got older. KG's knee still limits his mobility, Ray Allen's more inconsistent and Paul Pierce breaks down as each series goes along. The Big Three clearly aren't as dominant as in 2008.
Let's go even further. In '08 the bench with the perfect mix of youth and veteran leadership is no longer. James Posey did a stellar job defending Kobe and hit several big threes. PJ Brown found the right mix of energy and seemed to do everything right. And Leon Powe crushed the Lakers on the boards. In 2010, Boston patched together a group of veterans with Tony Allen and Glen Davis and hoped for a repeat of 2008. Instead they got inconsistency all over the place. They're not as dominant on defense. And Rasheed Wallace? After three years of drifting and mailing in playoff games he's suddenly going to lock it down and play like it's 2004. Hardly. And even in his prime back in 2005, he still made boneheaded plays down the stretch... Robert Horry ring a bell?
Now let's look at the difference in LA between 2008 and today. Their top seven in 2008 were Kobe, Fisher, Radmanovic, Odom, Gasol, Vujacic, Farmar and Turiaf. Their top seven in 2010 are Kobe, Fisher, Artest, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Farmar and Brown. More defense and more size. Yes Bynum's knee is a concern but these aren't the run and gun Suns. LA will get 25 minutes a game from him. But more importantly, swapping Radmanovic for Artest is a MAJOR improvement on defense. Gone are the high efficiency offense-first Lakers of '08, instead you get a grittier and smarter Lakers team that figures out their opponents on BOTH ends of the floor as each series progresses. They're better on defense, they're hoops IQ is much improved, they're tougher... oh and Kobe is still Kobe.
Like I said before: THIS IS AIN'T 2008!!!
Something we never saw in 2008, but saw in 2009 AND 2010, the Lakers winning at Boston.