Two years ago, when the Celtics took down the Lakers in six games, Rajon Rondo was just starting to make a name for himself. Now, this series could totally depend on his play. The fourth-year point guard has upstaged Boston's Big Three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett just about this whole postseason.
Los Angeles wasn't physically able to handle the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, but has a lot more beef with Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest. Lamar Odom is playing some of his best ball of the season right now, allowing the Lakers to play big, big and big for a full 48 minutes.
Kobe Bryant could be forced to defend Rondo, which might sap some of his energy and point production. If Rondo has his way, I could see Boston winning in six. But Bryant will make things difficult for him and Kobe's surrounding cast will provide enough for the Lakers.
Lakers in 7.
There was a stretch of the regular season when I was ready to concede that Cleveland's LeBron James had passed the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant as the NBA's best player.
When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.
"The King" has to be "The King" during the playoffs, injuries notwithstanding. "The King" can't merely put up impressive numbers; he has to lead, he has to take charge when that becomes necessary. "The King" has to be basketball's version of an assassin.
I see that in Bryant's eyes, in his demeanor as the Lakers prepare to face the Boston Celtics for the 12th time in the Finals. I didn't see it in James during the final games of the Cavaliers' postseason.
This is a tough call, because I really like the current look of the Celtics: bruised, battered, but fierce. But I like the look in Bryant's eyes even more.
Lakers in 6.
If you were handicapping the NBA Finals off the regular season, the Lakers would be a lock. But so much has changed since the Celtics stumbled to the finish line.
Without home court, Boston beat the teams with the two best regular-season records, Cleveland and Orlando. And it was no fluke. The Celtics were simply better.
When the Celtics overwhelmed the favored Lakers in the 2008 Finals, Los Angeles really did not have the proper parts to handle the veteran Celtics. It is much closer now. In fact, I am a bit surprised the Lakers are such a strong favorite. I picked the Lakers in 2008, but realized quickly I had the wrong side. Then, I liked the Lakers because I was pretty sure Kobe Bryant would not let his team lose. Well, his team simply was not good enough and Kobe was not quite ready to dominate without more help.
Paul Pierce was great against the Magic. Bryant was legendary against the Suns. I think the rest of the Celtics players are better than the rest of the Lakers players. But I think Kobe is at some level mere athletic mortals can't even imagine. And I think that will be enough - barely.
Lakers in 7.
Two years ago when the Lakers and Celtics played for the NBA title, it was one future Hall of Fame player (Kobe Bryant) matched up against three (Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce). The odds went the way they should have.
These Finals may be the same scenario, but Bryant has a much stronger supporting cast, and Boston's "Big Three" are 2 years older and two steps slower. Ron Artest guarding Pierce will allow Bryant to focus his energy on attacking. Pau Gasol is tougher and Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, off the bench, offer a lot of talented length.
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is the wild card. The Lakers guards can't match him. A big series from him could change everything.