NBA: Capsule preview of the Lakers-Celtics NBA finals
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
A capsule look at the NBA finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, which begin Thursday night (with playoff stats):
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (57-25, 12-4) vs. BOSTON CELTICS (50-32, 12-5)
C Andrew Bynum (9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg)
F Pau Gasol (20.0 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
F Ron Artest (11.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg)
G Kobe Bryant (29.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.2 apg)
G Derek Fisher (11.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.1 apg).
C Kendrick Perkins (5.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
F Kevin Garnett (14.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.3 apg)
F Paul Pierce (19.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G Ray Allen (16.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.0 apg)
G Rajon Rondo (16.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 10.0 apg, 2.1 spg).
Key Reserves: Lakers — F Lamar Odom (10.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg), G Shannon Brown (5.8 ppg, 1.1 apg), G Jordan Farmar (5.3 ppg, 1.6 apg), G Sasha Vujacic (3.3 ppg). Celtics — F Glen Davis (7.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Rasheed Wallace (6.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G/F Tony Allen (5.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg), G Nate Robinson (3.7 ppg), G Michael Finley (0.9 ppg).
Season Series: Tied, 1-1. The teams exchanged one-point victories. Kobe Bryant made the go-ahead jumper with 7.3 seconds left in the Lakers' 90-89 victory at Boston on Jan. 31, then missed the rematch with a sprained left ankle and the Celtics pulled out an 87-86 win at Staples Center on Feb. 18. Rajon Rondo averaged 17.5 points, 11.5 assists and 3.5 steals.
Storyline: The NBA's greatest rivalry gets another chapter as the Lakers and Celtics meet for the second time in three years, and the 12th time overall. Boston leads the series 9-2 after its six-game victory in 2008. Los Angeles won the title last year and is trying to become the league's first repeat champion since it won three in a row from 2000-02. The Celtics have won 17 championships, two more than the Lakers.
Key matchup I: Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Garnett. This one went to Boston in a big way two years ago, when Garnett, that season's defensive player of the year, led a powerful interior defense that bullied the Lakers' frontcourt. That increased the questions about whether Gasol is a "soft" player, but he's much tougher now, and he has a chance to prove it this time. Garnett scored at least 18 points in every game against Cleveland in the second round, then managed more than 10 only once against Orlando in the conference finals.
Key matchup II: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest. For all the headaches Artest can cause with his questionable shot selection, the Lakers figured he'd be worth it for his defense against the top small forwards. They needed someone for Pierce, the finals MVP two years ago who has rebounded from a quiet offensive series against Cleveland in the second round.
X-factor: Ray Allen. The Celtics need Allen's jumper to be on, and that might be asking a lot considering he'll have to spend time covering Bryant on the other end. Allen scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting in Boston's victory in the regular season, but was held to seven points and shot just 2 for 10 in the loss.
Prediction: Lakers in six.