The NBA Finals start on Thursday, and you don't get to the NBA Finals without having a chance at a championship. Unless you're the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers, and/or you start Eric Snow(notes). So let's go over a few reasons — three, you'll find out — why the Lakers can beat the Celtics four times over the next two weeks.
We worked the Celtics earlier this morning. Right now? The Lakers.
Keep the offense flowing
Easier said than done, I know. Moving from Phoenix's squishy zone to confront those karate-choppin' mamajamas from Boston is no easy task, but the Lakers were built to make tricky come to life.
No defense, no matter how stout, can top a triangle offense flowing the right way. Because it's a read-and-react offense at its core, the triangle can overcome any amount of longish arms, if it's run properly. The problem with this Laker team, up until about six weeks ago, is that it wasn't being run properly. Too many screen and rolls. Too much orthodoxy.
But then the Lakers started making quicker, more effective decisions with the ball in its first-round series with Oklahoma City, and the team has been rolling ever since. If the spacing is there, and the decisions are pointed and not drawn out, the Lakers will win this series. Simple as that.
Kobe's hot shooting
Not only is Kobe Bryant(notes) possibly playing the best basketball of his storied career, he's hitting a ridiculous amount of long 2-pointers. Taking what the defense is giving him, killing what the defense is giving me.
A great deal of smart analysis in the days leading up to the finals has focused on Bryant perhaps coming down to earth a bit. Falling back to his usual averages on those 19-foot jumpers. And that's fine. That would be the smart thing to expect.
But this is Kobe Bryant. And those jumpers look different than the ones that have gone wrong through the years. There's a kinder arc, I'm being serious, more touch and better rotation. They're not line-drive shots.
And even if the stroke hasn't changed, and we should expect a regression to the mean, well, why? Most analysts have this series going six or seven games, so why can't Kobe Bryant keep it up for six or seven more games? Like it has to happen now, just because Ray Allen(notes) is in his face?
Just don't be surprised with either side of the coin. That's all I'm saying.
The Lakers look like defending champs, and they also look like soon-to-be back-to-back champs. Since that Oklahoma City series, the Lakers have had a purpose to its offense, and despite a few hiccups against the Phoenix zone, and a defense that is getting weaker and weaker with each series, I suspect the motivation is there.
It doesn't even have to come from the loss in 2008. I think these Lakers are finally starting to realize just how great they are — I'm being serious, again — and they're trying to flex that muscle a little bit. Letting us know that this isn't the same team that flips switches on and off, and that it has the legendary-enough stuff to become the NBA's first repeat winner since 2002.
That's dangerous, for Boston. That's not a team that's full of itself. That's a team that knows where it should stand, while knowing that it has to climb a bit before it can stand and preen.
Predictions come later. For now, just know that this isn't just another made-for-TV bit of history, these two famous teams lining up again. This isn't because LeBron choked, the Magic went soft, and the Suns don't defend.
This series is taking place because these two teams are the best this league has to offer right now. This matchup is no accident, and it's been forged because these two teams have the talent and drive needed to pull out 12 or more postseason victories.
There's a lot of great, here.