Congratulations to the L.A Lakers for advancing past the Phoenix Suns with a great game 6 in Phoenix. It was a great series and a great test for the Lakers in preparation for their second straight NBA championship. Up next, Boston! The Lakers have the opportunity of a lifetime to execute revenge on the team that beat them in the Finals two seasons ago. Let’s look at a few factors that will affect this year’s NBA Finals matchup. Oh I can’t wait!
The Pierce vs. Artest Matchup
The last time the Lakers played the Celtics in the Finals, L.A had nobody to matchup defensively with Paul Pierce. Unless you consider Luke Walton and Vladamir Radmanovic good matchups? Consequently Pierce had a huge series and was the single biggest nightmare for the Lakers in that series.
This time around it will be different with Ron Artest in the mix. His defensive assignment will be to harass Paul Pierce and keep his offensive productivity low by forcing him into contested, low percentage shots. Expect this matchup to pay huge dividends for the Lakers in this series. Artest’s combination of strength of foot speed is really going to bother Pierce.
Andrew Bynum in the Middle
This will be one of the bigger stories going into this years NBA Finals. How is Bynum’s right knee? Andrew Bynum says he will be able to contribute about 20-24 minutes a night for L.A in this series. His size and length is important to keep guys like Rondo and Tony Allen out of the paint and to help win the rebounding battle with Perkins and Garnett. Even though he’s injured, and it will only be 20 minutes per game or so, expect Andrew Bynum’s presence in the middle to change the landscape of this series and give Boston some serious problems.
The Bench Mobs For Both Teams
The Celtics have a pretty good bench. It does however pale in comparison to what the Lakers just had to deal with in the Phoenix Suns and their strong 5-man bench rotation. The Celtics have 3 players they refer to off the bench with regularity in Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. The other 4 bench players are a little more limited in their time to play and in their impacts in the game. These being Michael Finley, Marquies Daniels, Shelden Williams, and Nate Robinson. Althought lately Nate Robinson has become more of an impact player for them.
The Lakers also have their own 3 they rely on off the bench in Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar (who’s playing great right now) and Shannon Brown. Less dependable but still available off the bench for L.A include Luke Walton, Sasha Vuyacic, and Josh Powell. These benches are quite even between the two teams as you can see. The first key will be how well Lamar Odom plays, as he is by far the most talented and skilled of the bench players on both sides and stands to have the biggest impact.
The second key is who will be the key 4th bench player. Will it be Nate Robinson for Boston? Will it be Sasha Vuyacic for L.A? Something very interesting to watch out for. My prediction is that it will be Vuyacic for L.A and that he will have a great series shooting from beyond the 3-point line.
Rondo & Allen vs. Bryant & Fisher
The battle of the backcourt. Expect to see Kobe Bryant defending Rajon Rondo at times to try and keep him out of the paint while Fisher gets busy chasing Ray Allen around screens. I think these defensive matchups favor the Lakers more than people actually think.
As far as offense goes, expect Kobe Bryant to continue his dominance. In 2008 the Celtics would throw several defenders at Kobe in a single game including Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Tony Allen, and James Posey. Posey would get most of the defensive assignment with a ton of front-court help behind him. This time around it’s different. Tony Allen is not tall enough or good enough to defend Kobe. The great defensive play of James Posey is no longer in Boston. So Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are left to do the job themselves. Expect Kobe to take full advantage of these matchups and force Allen and Pierce to spend alot of energy trying to stop him.
Garnett vs. Gasol
This should be one of the more exciting matchups to watch. Pau Gasol feels he has something to prove after being out played and out classed in 2008 by Garnett. Garnett is a little banged up and a little older, and Gasol should be able to take advantage of these two discrepancies. The key though will be whether or not Gasol who can be soft at times, can match the intensity (and sometimes insanity) of Kevin Garnett.
Home Court Advantage
The Lakers are undefeated at home in this years playoffs. And they get home court in this series unlike the 2008 series against the Celtics. This will have a huge impact in the series. The Lakers will have a chance to go up not just 1-0, but 2-0 on Boston which will put the Lakers in a great position.
I expect that the Lakers will win the first two games at home, and then still 1 game in Boston before closing it out in game 6 at home.