Breaking down the NBA Finals series between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers that begins tonight:


The Celtics took both regular-season meetings, 107-94 at home in November, 110-91 in LA in December when Kobe Bryant shot just 6-for-25.


Celtics: Kevin Garnett, 21.1 points per game, 9.8 rebounds in the postseason ... Paul Pierce, 19.0 points; Pierce seems more inclined to try to impose his will on an opponent, but Garnett was the regular-season defensive player of the year.

Lakers: Lamar Odom, 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds ... Vlade Radmanovic, 8.3 points ... Odom, for the most part, has been fierce; Radmanovic, who is likely to defend Pierce, is a streaky three-point shooter who can spread the floor.



Celtics: Kendrick Perkins, 7.2 points, 6.8 rebounds; he has to establish himself on the glass and stay out of foul trouble.

Lakers: Pau Gasol, 17.7 points, 8.9 rebounds; he has been exactly what they envisioned when they all but stole him from the Memphis Grizzlies.



Celtics: Rajon Rondo, 10.5 points, 6.6 assists ... Ray Allen, 14.2 points ... Rondo is discovering what it can be like for a young point guard to sweat in the cauldron of the postseason ... Allen's vaunted picture-book jumper has spent too much time AWOL, but could be back at any moment.

Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 31.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.27 steals, 50.9 percent from the floor ... Derek Fisher, 10.0 points ... Bryant's steel will and killer instinct have been more apparent than ever, even more than in 2001 when he faced the 76ers and said he wanted "to cut their hearts out.'' And, of course, he did. Fisher, with his court awareness and ability to knock down threes, has been a terrific complement.



Celtics: James Posey has been the most consistent, while elderly P.J. Brown has provided what could be described as effective bonus minutes. Sam Cassell was viewed as an important late-season addition, but is shooting 32.2 percent in the postseason ... The hot hand - Rondo, Cassell or Eddie House - is likely to be on the floor down the stretch. After that, Leon Powe and Glen Davis have helped in spots.

Lakers: Sasha Vujacic, 8.1 points, has profited mightily from Bryant's mentoring ... Luke Walton, 7.3 points, has been steady, as has Jordan Farmar. Ronny Turiaf has been OK.



Celtic: Doc Rivers has been the right voice at the right time on the right course.

Lakers: Phil Jackson has nine rings, finally is on the same wavelength as Bryant and has transformed what initially seemed a dysfunctional, volatile situation into a potential champion.



Celtics: Homecourt advantage, but the Celtics already have played 20 postseason games, two more than when they won their last championship in 1986 ... If you're counting, the record for most postseason games is 24, jointly held by the '88 Lakers and '03 Spurs ... Before they began a season in which they compiled the league's best record, Rivers showed them the parade route that had been used by the Red Sox and Patriots ... Big question: How does Rondo hold up at the point?

Lakers: Every starter is shooting at least 46.4 percent from the floor, led by Bryant, who has been all but miraculous in trying to win for the first time without Shaquille O'Neal ... Jackson needs one more ring to pass the Celtics' legendary Red Auerbach for the all-time record ... Big question: Can Odom hold up on the glass?

EDGE: LAKERS, because of Bryant's inner resolve.