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Anybody here want to call this guy too old?
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Ball Talk: On The Finals, old, soft and the best there is

Posted Jun 2 2010 10:37AM

We asked our cadre of scribes to weigh in on some topics surrounding The Finals. Here's what they had to offer ...

Lakers-Celtics in the Finals ... again? Again. Good for the NBA or not?

Shaun Powell: Yes, this is good. Lakers-Celtics brings history into the mix and takes us on a sentimental journey, allowing us to feel the humidity inside the old Bah-ston Gah-don, smell the stench of Red's cigars, watch Coop hit those 3-pointers, honor the many players who made this rivalry special, and the moments: Junior-junior sky hook, Boston Massacre, Riley sweating through his Armani shirts, Henderson's steal, etc. Sorry, an Orlando-Phoenix matchup just doesn't do historical. And of course, there's Kobe Bryant, the one player that the casual fan will make a point to watch. The blending of the old with the new makes for a tonic that will be shaken and stirred (apologies to 007).

Art Garcia: There are two ways to approach that. Are the Yankees and Red Sox good for baseball? Having the NBA's two most storied franchises in The Finals is good for the bottom line. Period. But more than economics or drawing in the casual fan -- which is what Lakers-Celtics will do -- this comes down to basketball. The purist wants the best matchup possible for purely basketball reasons. The uniforms are just extra. When it comes to these playoffs, no one is more deserving of a spot in The Finals than the Lakers and Celtics. That's good for the NBA.

Scott Howard-Cooper: Lakers-Celtics is never bad for ratings or interest, and, besides, this isn't same old same old. I can't recall Boston ever being in the Finals as the inspiring underdogs who are trying to complete the triple crown of knocking off what most considered the three best teams in the league: Cleveland in the second round, Orlando in the East final, and now Los Angeles. It has been a playoff run of tremendous heart, teamwork and execution, and doing it from back in the pack makes it a unique storyline. It's different this time for the Lakers, too, because losing to the Celtics twice in three Finals will become another benchmark moment in the rivalry, one they'll have to hear about for years, and it will sting Kobe Bryant just as it did his basketball hero, Jerry West. The Logo still isn't over the heartache. It's important for the history of the franchise, not just 2010, that Los Angeles wins.

Fran Blinebury: Are we seriously even asking this question? Lakers vs. Celtics, Hatfields vs. McCoys, Montagues vs. Capulets, Cain vs. Abel, Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie. Anytime, anywhere, we're watching.

John Schuhmann: The Lakers and Celtics are two teams who are loaded with talent and playing their best basketball of the season. That sounds pretty good to me. If casual fans or fans of other teams don't want to watch, it's their loss, because it has the makings of a great series.

Steve Aschburner: Of course it's good. The people who think it isn't likely live in one of the NBA markets that feels deprived because its team never has won a championship. But if the Raptors, the Pacers, the Bucks or the Timberwolves were in The Finals, there still would be a bunch of unhappy, empty-handed fans -- and the Finals wouldn't pull in the casual fans drawn by Lakers-Celtics and all that showdown conjures. Granted, the league's "Dream" Finals would have pitted Kobe vs. LeBron vs. Michael Jordan vs. the Knicks, some how, some way. But Boston vs. Los Angeles is a pretty good backup.

Sekou Smith: Absolutely. This is the best rivalry in all of professional sports. It's decades old and captures the attention from generation to generation and also draws the casual fan -- even Wifey intends to watch this series! I don't care what the sport, it always helps when the two best teams square off for the biggest prize. And make no mistake, these are indeed the NBA's two best teams at this stage of the season. They mowed down all the other contenders along the way without an injury or circumstantial asterisk to stain the process. Finally, is this not the rivalry (Magic-Bird) that revived the league some 30 years ago? Of course, it's good for the NBA.

An important factor in this matchup that we're not hearing enough about is ...

Powell: Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers. These coaches are the premier communicators in the game right now. Jackson, of course, has a track record for connecting with the greats (Jordan, Shaq, Kobe) and the goofballs (Rodman, now Artest). Despite not having a long coaching resume or rings, Rivers was respected almost instantly by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, veterans who've known good and bad coaching. You can't fool them. Impressive how Rivers handled Rajon Rondo and Rasheed Wallace, two somewhat high maintenance types.

Garcia: Whose legacy does another title impact more? Is Kobe essentially on par with Jordan's six by winning a fifth, a second without Shaq? Does a second title validate greatness for KG, Pierce and Allen? Is Doc truly one of the all-time greats with his second? What does it mean for Pau or Rondo? Phil's legacy is secure, but talk about bargaining power with No. 11.

Howard-Cooper: Lamar Odom. He just averaged 14 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 48 percent in the Western Conference finals -- lucky! -- and anything close to a repeat would be a huge boost for the Lakers against the deep Celtics front line.

Blinebury: That's a much different, more confident Pau Gasol on the Lakers than the one who was tossed around like a rag doll in 2008.

Schuhmann: I'd say it's how bad the Lakers' defense has been in the last two rounds. They've played two poor defensive teams, so it hasn't hurt them much, but they will need to be better on that end if they're going to beat the Celtics. Boston has been the more complete team since the playoffs began.

Aschburner: Is it possible that some aspect of this series, in the Internet age, could go under-covered? Doubtful. But I think Ray Allen is going to be a bigger factor than many realize. How well he's able to shed Derek Fisher or Kobe Bryant or whoever else the Lakers throw at him will dictate how much Boston will be able to attack from the perimeter and score by three vs. two. Allen has had a superb postseason and may have made himself some extra money in this summer's free-agent market (if only he'd be willing to change teams).

Smith: The technical foul scare that worried the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals remains. Kendrick Perkins' next technical will cost him a game. And the Celtics don't have another brute that can knock Andrew Bynum off his sweet spot in the post and force the Lakers to abandon their desire to play inside out. The frontcourt play is going to be as interesting to watch this time around as it was in 2008, but even more so because of the Kevin Garnett-Pau Gasol dynamic at power forward and the fact that Perkins (the tech scare) and Bynum (knee) will both be handicapped by potentially mitigating factors.

What strikes you as more true: Celtics are too old and beat up, Lakers are too soft?

Powell: Wow. This comparison would go into triple overtime, it's that close. But "old and beat up" wins at the buzzer. Even Doc Rivers admits, "We are old" whenever age creeps into the conversation. Perhaps not so beat up, with the exception of Garnett. But when three of your four key players are all on the downside of their careers, and have seen better days, yes, that's old.

Garcia: Neither. The Celtics have turned back the clock over the last month, knocking out two teams that were younger and supposedly more talented. It's always been more about health and hunger with the Celtics, and right now they have both. The Lakers have been to The Finals for the last three years out of the deeper and more-rugged Western Conference. Yellow and purple as colors might be soft. The Lakers aren't.

Howard-Cooper: Neither is true. The Lakers finished ninth in the league in the regular season in rebounding percentage, despite Andrew Bynum missing 17 games, and fifth in shooting defense. They are clinching series after series on the road. Where the soft in all that? And no point in even asking the question about whether the Celtics are too old. The Cavaliers can answer that. The Magic can answer that.

Blinebury: The Lakers are definitely "softer," but the addition of Artest closes that gap and gives them a wide advantage in the he's-so-crazy-he'll-do-anything-to-win department.

Schuhmann: Neither, really. The Celtics have looked fresh for the entire postseason and have that 24-year-old point guard running the show. And I don't think any team with Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest on it can be considered "soft."

Aschburner: The former. After all, the Celtics are old -- it says so right on their driver's licenses -- though the "too" part is a matter of taste. They aren't as beat up as they were a couple of months ago, and they aren't so old that seven games spread across 15 days should be too grueling. The Lakers sometimes play soft, but that mostly happens when they're dilly-dallying with a lesser team. That's not the case now.

Smith: It's all rubbish. I spent the entire season believing the Celtics were on their way out and they've manhandled the two best teams [in the regular season] to get here. Ask the Thunder, Jazz and Suns how soft the Lakers are. I guarantee they'll clown you for even suggesting something like that. Are they the Bad Boy Pistons? No, but they are the defending champs. So don't get it twisted. Both of these teams have shut their critics up just by getting to this point.

Alvin Gentry says Kobe is the best player in basketball, and it's not close. Really?

Powell: I guess I'd say the same if Kobe dropped a fallaway 20-footer with Grant Hill hanging on him and then turned and patted me on the leg, as Kobe did to Gentry in Game 6. But I only partially agree with Gentry. Kobe is the best player, no question, especially this time of year. Not sure about the "not even close" part. I'd say Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are in the same zip code, if not on the same block. They lack Kobe's Mamba instinct -- as does everyone else in the game -- but I'd love to see what those players can do with ample talent around them.

Garcia: Really. Have you been watching the last six weeks? Kobe not only hits shots he has no business hitting, he puts himself in position to hit those shots. Kobe has a gift for creating an opening when one doesn't exist and yanking out the heart of the opposition. It's a combination of clutch, skill and ruthlessness that no one else in the league can match. He's the closest the league has to a perfect player right now.

Howard-Cooper: No, not really. Kobe-LeBron remains a great debate. But to say it's not close is surprising.

Blinebury: Really, really.

Schuhmann: No. It's close. I still think LeBron James is the best over the course of seven months, but Kobe has obviously taken his game to a new level over the last four weeks or so. He's also got a stronger supporting cast that helped him get here.

Aschburner: No, not really. Gentry can be forgiven his slanted view, since his team had just gotten eliminated by Bryant and the Lakers. But this stuff always gets down to semantics and parsing exactly what one means by "best player." Best closer? That's Bryant. Guy you'd want taking last shots, contested or otherwise? Sure, Kobe again. Best player? I'm sticking with LeBron James until I get a more specific definition. If you had every NBA player on a playground and were told to draft for the greatest pickup game in history, Gentry would pick Bryant and Phil Jackson would pick Dwight Howard (he's said this before), but most of us would pick James.

Smith: I agree with Gentry that Kobe is the best of the best. But I don't think it's as big a runaway as the Suns' coach suggests. Kobe, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are clearly the three most mercurial talents in the game today. No one else in the league plays at as high a level on both ends of the floor as consistently as those three men. The difference is that Bryant also does it in the playoffs. Wade did it once in the postseason, the year he led the Heat to a title. James did it once, the year he led the Cavaliers to the Finals. Bryant has done it more than a half dozen times, and counting, in his career.

In 15 words or less: Pick a winner, give us how long the series will last and tell us why.

Powell: Lakers. Seven games. Three in overtime. Kobe's Drive For Five (rings) is something to behold.

Garcia: As impressed as I am by C's, the champs will stand taller. Lakers in 7.

Howard-Cooper: Lakers in 7. The best team in the league when focused.

Blinebury: Lakers in 6. See question 4. Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.

Schuhmann: Celtics in seven. The location of any particular game doesn't matter much to them.

Aschburner: Lakers in six. Artest on Pierce, Bryant on Rondo, Gasol freed from banging by Bynum.

Smith: Lakers in seven. Gasol battles Garnett to a stalemate and Bryant does his thing.

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