Friday, November 14, 2008

It's Celtics-Lakers and all the rest in the NBA

When I wake up in the morning, I'm like a lot of men who like sports -- I grab the newspaper (yes people my age still read newspapers) and immediately navigate to the sports section.

But, at the risk of sounding haughty, I do consider myself rather well-read, and will eventually peek through the "more important" parts of the paper.

And I have to admit when I see the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers dominating things in the NBA, I almost expect to see Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev on the front page, signing some kind of treaty in Iceland.

It's been a very long time since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird "rescued" the NBA and forever stamped Lakers-Celtics as the preeminent rivalry in the sport.

Since then, Isiah and the "Bad Boys" ignited the Motor City, Michael surpassed Magic, Larry and Wilt as the greatest player in NBA history and Shaq, Kobe and Phil Jackson brought another dynasty to Hollywood with three straight tiles.

The Lakers and Celtics have combined for a 15-1 record so far this season.
But, the Lakers and Celtics were never good together.

That all changed last year when Danny Ainge rebuilt Boston into a 66-win juggernaut and a world champion in just one offseason.

Of course, the Celtics faced Los Angeles in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1986-87 and Boston tortured the Andrew Bynum-less Lakers with the pick-and-roll, and on the boards, en route to its first title since '85-86.

Barring a significant injury, you can book the sequel.

I realize its only mid-November but the Lakers and Celtics have combined for a 15-1 record and the only other championship-tested contender, San Antonio. is a miserable 2-5 as Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker sit on the sidelines with ankle injuries.

Atlanta is a great story and almost stunned the Celtics in Beantown Wednesday night before cold-blooded Finals MVP Paul Pierce buried a fadeaway jumper with 0.5 seconds to play, handing the Hawks their first loss of the season. As talented as Atlanta is, however, it's still far too early in the careers of Al Horford and Josh Smith to take the team all that seriously.

So how about the other roadblocks?

With all due respect to Kobe Bryant, Cleveland's LeBron James is my choice for the best player in basketball, and Mo Williams was a nice addition for the Cavs, but general manager Danny Ferry just hasn't done enough to compete with the big boys.

In the Big Easy, Chris Paul's daily double-double is nice but doesn't make up for one of the league's thinnest benches.

I suppose the fountain of youth could be in Phoenix and a healthy Shaquille O'Neal might carry the Suns a long way, but it's hard to imagine a team changing so drastically in philosophy being a championship-type club.

As usual, Utah is the most unselfish team in basketball but can't play on the road in big situations.

Meanwhile Joe Dumars already waved the white flag in Detroit when he acquired Allen Iverson.

It's a two-horse race in the NBA, and the participants are awfully familiar.

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