I was really hoping to get to write this article specifically because I didn't think that I would get the chance to do so.
Why? Because experience has taught me that a tiger doesn't change its stripes. Bad habits once set, simply run amok at the worst possible times.
But, you know what? Every rule has an exception, and this year has been the exception.
Consider the NBA elite of Cleveland, LA, Boston and Orlando. The two that remain standing (i.e., the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers) went through the most stretches of games where they couldn't seem to "bring it" every night.
Given that they are both decidedly veteran teams, it was never clear how much of this affect was a function of injuries, lack of discipline or saving it for the stretch run. Regardless, as a fan it was a major buzz kill.
Yet, here we are; Lakers-Celts, meaning that the moral of the story this season is that a tiger WILL change its stripes. Thus, you should enjoy watching professional basketball's equivalent of Haley's Comet for it's a rare occurrence indeed.
Basketball as Boxing Match
This one is just too juicy. One season removed from a mental collapse against Boston, the Lakers are the world champions.
Last year, they grew big time, winning the big games home and on the road, not to mention making the key plays and finding the resolve to execute with the outcome on the line. I felt very confident last year that the Lakers would be champs, irrespective of the competition.
Unfortunately, Boston wasn't up to the task of meeting for a repeat last year, but make no doubt about it; these are two teams that want to face each other.
A gimpy Bynum is what it is, but I actually think that he has found a slot where he can positively impact the game.
A key question, though, revolves around Pau Gasol executing in the post on offense and being a factor on defense. At the end of the Phoenix series, his rebounding numbers, scoring and defensive positioning wilted (he got manhandled too often by Amare Stoudemire).
By contrast, Kobe appears to be in a zone, nailing corner jumpers, making beautiful, insanely difficult plays, and deftly measuring the situation, then responding. The Mamba moniker no longer seems like hubris. We are bearing witness to true "not on my watch" brilliance.
Ron Artest seems to have found his place in the offense, and his defense has been excellent in the post season. Boston is exactly the type of team the Lakers acquired him for. If he can neutralize Paul Pierce's effectiveness, that would be huge.
Derek Fisher has played surprisingly well against elite, speedy guards this post-season, and Lamar Odom has been mostly good as well, but has the potential to disappear or dominate from one game to the next.
Similarly, the Lakers as a team are now very experienced in the post season of dealing with different styles of play, and seem comfortable changing up the floor and flow accordingly.
Boston is tough, and proud, and Rondo adds a major dimension (thank god for the Russell Westbrook experience against the Thunder). Ray Allen is playing ageless, is clutch and has history with Kobe. Kevin Garnett is mostly healthy and good for 17 and 10. Kendrick Perkins enables Boston to literally clog the lane. Rasheed Wallace has the potential of winning a game by himself, or laying an egg, depending on the night.
This is going to come down to stretches of play and match-ups, and I would be lying if I suggested that I know who is going to win. But I am picking the Lakers in seven anyway, mostly because I think that the Lakers have the personnel, the experience and Kobe Bryant is back in his element.
An aside, don't you think that Phil Jackson desperately wants to stick it to Boston? Or that Paul Pierce wants to prove to his dominion playing nearby his old neighborhood in Inglewood?
There is so much history to this rivalry. I personally grew up on Bird versus Magic, but a little Revenge Party is more than fine by me. Go Lakers!