DOUG COLLINS established himself as one of the best, if not the best, TV analysts. So why not ask the new 76ers coach to analyze the NBA Finals that begin tonight between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics?
The key here is the physicality of the Celtics' Kevin Garnett and how the Lakers' Pau Gasol responds.
"Two years ago [when the Celtics took out the Lakers in six games], Boston's physicality and toughness overwhelmed the Lakers," Collins said. "For 2 years, all Gasol has heard about is how tough the Celtics were. [Lakers coach] Phil Jackson told me there was an early play in Game 6 when Garnett went right down the middle, posted Gasol and scored; Phil called it a defining moment.
"To me, Gasol is the most skilled big man in the league, moving ahead of an older Tim Duncan. His matchup with Garnett will be big; he didn't finish strong against the Phoenix zone [in the Western finals]. He has to filter out Garnett's chatter and be better."
On the other hand, an effective series from the Lakers' Andrew Bynum could turn things around. Bynum has been trying to play through a knee problem.
Advantage: Until Gasol establishes himself or Bynum emerges as a force, it goes to the Celtics.
Collins tends to break things down by perimeter and post players, which is why he included the Celtics' Paul Pierce, the Finals' MVP 2 years ago, in this segment.
"When he isolates, maybe one foot inside the three-point line, he's unstoppable, their money guy," Collins said.
At the same time, Collins said point guard Rajon Rondo "changes their whole team."
"They've adjusted from Rondo trying to play off their Big 3 [Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen] to the Big 3 playing off him," he said. "He can get a triple-double at any time, gets them into their early offense. He can also be a one-man fast break."
But . . .
There is the imposing figure of the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, described by Collins as "the ultimate weapon at the end of games."
"We watched [Cleveland's LeBron James] searching for something that would work against Boston," Collins said, "but Kobe is the master of knowing how he wants to go at you. He has what he calls 'kill spots,' certain areas he goes to, depending on the opponents and the situation. To me, Kobe and Michael Jordan are the most fundamentally sound players I've seen, in terms of footwork, attention to detail and efficiency. Those two never worried about the consequences if they missed a shot."
Derek Fisher provides poise and experience for the Lakers. Allen is a gifted three-point shooter.
Advantage: Rondo's leadership notwithstanding, Bryant's killer instinct gives a slight edge to the Lakers.
"Both teams have been very inconsistent in that area," Collins said.
The Celtics' Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis (plus starter Kendrick Perkins) have to help against Gasol and Bynum, and Tony Allen has to provide some minutes vs. Bryant.
Lamar Odom is the Lakers' versatile big man in the rotation, but the inconsistency of Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic is the reason Bryant played so many minutes in several games.
Advantage: Slight edge to the Celtics.
The Lakers' Phil Jackson has 10 rings. The Celtics' Doc Rivers has one.
"Both are great for what their respective teams need," Collins said. "Doc did a great job of making sure his guys were healthy when it counted. Phil is a great leader, who gives his guys space and allows Bryant and Fisher to lead them. That's why you'll see those two frequently talking in the huddles, with Phil then coming in to say what he needs to say."
Advantages: Jackson's rings notwithstanding, this is closer than you might think. Call it even.
In the 2-3-2 format that has been in place since 1986, the road team has swept the middle three games just three times; the home team has done it twice.
"That's why there is tremendous pressure on the home team [in this case, the Lakers] to win the first two, and the same pressure on the road team to at least split the first two," Collins said.
After that, there's the reality that Perkins is one technical foul away from a one-game suspension, and the equal reality that Wallace and the Lakers' Ron Artest are so volatile and unpredictable.
Collins: "For me, it's hard to pick against Kobe."