NBA Finals Preview

NBA Finals Preview

Position-by-position matchups for the NBA finals

A position-by-position look at the matchups in the NBA finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.

CENTER: Kendrick Perkins vs. Pau Gasol. The Lakers wouldn't be here without their midseason acquisition of Gasol from Memphis. He's a good passer for a big man, making him an excellent fit for the triangle offense, and is shooting 53 percent in the postseason while averaging 17.7 points. Perkins made 61.5 percent of his shots in the regular season and had some strong games in the Eastern Conference finals, including an 18-point, 16-rebound performance in Game 5. Edge: Lakers.

POWER FORWARD: Kevin Garnett vs. Lamar Odom. The Defensive Player of the Year, Garnett increased his offensive production in the conference finals, averaging 22.8 points in Boston's victory over Detroit. His intensity on both ends of the floor is what makes the Celtics go. The versatile Odom was inconsistent against San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, but rebounded from a poor Game 3 with strong performances in the last two games. Edge: Celtics.

SMALL FORWARD: Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. Finally in the NBA finals in his 10th year with Boston, Pierce is set to face his hometown team. He has shown in the playoffs he can still be a potent scorer, notably in his 41-point effort to beat Cleveland in Game 7 of the second round, and has become an underrated defender. Radmanovic is a good perimeter shooter who doesn't do much else, and the Lakers need his jumper to be on to soften a Boston defense that held opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the league. Edge: Celtics.

SHOOTING GUARD: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Allen seemed to break out of his shooting slump in the final two games of the conference finals, averaging 23 points and going 8-of-14 from 3-point range. Bryant, a tenacious defender, will certainly welcome the challenge of trying to get that slump started again. And the league MVP has been at his best in the playoffs, averaging 31.9 points to lead all players in the postseason and shooting 51 percent. Edge: Lakers.

POINT GUARD: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher. Fisher had a fairly quiet series in the conference finals, but his postseason experience, solid defense and courage to take big shots remain a comfort to the Lakers even when his shot isn't falling. Rondo's poor jumper was especially off late in the last round, when he shot 10-of-35 in the final three games. The Lakers will make him beat them from the outside. Edge: Lakers.

RESERVES: James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis and Tony Allen vs. Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, DJ Mbenga and Trevor Ariza. Posey won a title with Miami two years ago and is a key contributor who will help defend Bryant, but tough to figure out what else to expect from Celtics' reserves. Minutes greatly fluctuated along with their production for most of them during the postseason. The Lakers counter with a much younger bench that tries to increase the tempo and energy when Bryant is resting. Edge: Lakers.

COACHES: Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson. Rivers did a great job molding all the Celtics' new pieces into a 66-win team. But he's appeared to lose confidence in some of his role players during the postseason, creating some inconsistent rotations. Jackson, the career leader in postseason victories, did one of his best coaching jobs this season on a team that started with the turmoil surrounding a possible Bryant trade and was never expected to be here. He seeks a 10th title, which would break Red Auerbach's record. Edge: Lakers.

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Betting the NBA Finals: Coaching matters

Only six NBA coaches have won a title in the last 21 years. Phil Jackson has nine rings from his tenure in Chicago and L.A. Pat Riley has three rings from his time with the Lakers and Heat (more rings than that if we go back further). Greg Popovich has four rings with San Antonio. Chuck Daly earned two rings with the ‘Bad Boys’ Pistons teams of the early '90s, and Larry Brown earned a single ring with Detroit in 2004. Last, but not least, let’s not forget about Rudy Tomjanovich who notched a pair of titles with the Houston Rockets.

Clearly, coaching matters at this time of the year. When only six coaches have proven capable of winning the title in 21 years, it means something. In a best-of-seven series, the better coaches will make quality adjustments from game to game, giving their team an enormous advantage. And these elite level coaches also utilize the type of motivational techniques that get their team to bounce back from adversity and/or step up their level of play when their opponent is showing any kind of weakness.

If the NBA Finals comes down to coaching, Phil Jackson has a decided advantage over Doc Rivers in terms of championship level big game coaching experience. Based on both team’s fortunes here in the postseason, Jackson’s experience has paid off in spades for LA, while Rivers relative lack of playoff coaching experience has resulted in choppy play from the Celtics. And when we listen to the miked coaches talking during timeouts, the disparity between Jackson and Rivers is even more apparent – Jackson is instructing his team in X’s and O’s; Rivers seems more like a cheerleader, trying to bolster his team’s often sagging confidence.

But, as we all know, coaching is only one piece of the equation – talent and desire certainly come in to play significantly. Look no further than the Giants monumental upset of the Patriots in the Super Bowl this past year for a prime recent example – the G-men came to play, and they had enough talent and more than enough execution to steal the win. And make no mistake about it – each of those six coaches listed above with at least one ring on their finger had championship caliber talent to work with.

Jordan and Pippen. Isiah, Dumars, Rodman and Laimbeer. Magic, Kareem and Worthy. Shaq and Kobe. Olajuwon Cassell, Horry and Drexler. What duo, trio or quartet will be the names that we remember from 2008?

The Lakers are the favorite in this series, despite the fact that Boston had the best regular season record, earning homecourt advantage for the Finals. L.A. also has a decided advantage offensively against the Celtics. Phil Jackson’s triangle offense has certainly proven it’s merit with nine championships. L.A. was the fourth highest scoring team in the league during the regular season, averaging more than 108 points per game. They ranked third in the league in shooting percentage and sixth in the league in both three-point shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. Here in the playoffs, L.A.’s offense is ranked even higher, leading the league in both points scored and shooting percentage.

Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau has been known as one of the best defensive assistants in the NBA for the last two decades, most notably with Houston and New York. In 17 years prior to his arrival in Boston, his teams finished in the top 10 in team defense 14 times. Make no mistake about it – Thibodeau’s coaching has been a real difference maker for the Celtics in 2008. Boston was the single best team in the NBA in terms of defensive field goal percentage allowed; second in the league in terms of points allowed. Here in the postseason, Boston still ranks No. 1 defensively, holding foes to 87 points per game on 42 percent shooting.

We’ve got a true marquee matchup between two elite franchises. One team has coaching, offensive execution and three time champion Kobe Bryant on their side. The other team has the homecourt edge, a trio of veteran superstars, and a defensive mentality that is second to none. The Lakers are -160 to win the series at the opener, with Boston favored by three points in Game 1 at TD Banknorth Garden. Check back for Part 2 of this NBA Finals preview for a personnel matchup breakdown between these two teams.

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Bettin' the Finals
By Chris David

The NBA Finals begin Thursday when the Celtics and Lakers battle in Game 1 from TD Banknorth Garden. With only one game per night, gamblers are left with few options on how to wager on the finals. Still, we have a few days to tackle the best-of-seven battle.

The Line

Boston opened up as a three-point home favorite for Game 1, while the total is listed at 193. On Nov. 23, 2007 the Celtics dropped the Lakers 107-94 as an eight-point home favorite, shooting 50 percent from the floor, including eight bombs from 3-point land.

The short price on Game 1 seems like a bit on an insult to the Celtics, who have gone 10-1 at home in this year’s playoffs. It tells me that Los Angeles will most likely be laying anywhere from six to eight points at home, and it could move either way depending on the outcome of the first two battles.

The 193-point total is the highest ‘over/under’ for the Celtics in the playoffs and is one of the lowest numbers for the Lakers. Los Angeles watched the ‘under’ cash in all five games against San Antonio.

Days of Rest

One thing to keep an eye on in this series is the schedule and the amount of days off. For those of you who don’t know, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was the reason the league switched from a 2-2-1-1-1 format to a 2-3-2 because the travel between the East and West Coasts was too much for everybody involved.

Both clubs will be rested for the first game on Thursday and then they get two days off for Game 2 and Game 5. Games 3, 4, 6 and 7 will all be played on one-day of rest.

Game 1 might be a solid look at the Lakers, who own an 8-2 straight up and 7-3 against the spread record on three days of rest or more. Boston has been a tad rusty, owning a mediocre 3-3 record both SU and ATS.

On two days rest, both the Lakers (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) and Celtics (11-3 SU, 8-5-1 ATS) have been solid for backers.

And one-day of rest has been good as well for both, watching Boston (48-15 SU, 36-27 ATS) and L.A. (39-19 SU, 31-24 ATS) both dominate opponents this year.

Winning on the Road

The Lakers have posted a 4-3 SU and 4-2-1 ATS road record in the postseason, while Boston has gone 2-7-1 both SU and ATS, earning both victories against Detroit in the conference finals.

Despite postseason struggles away from home, Boston still owns the best road ledger (33-17 SU, 28-20 ATS) in the NBA. Los Angeles isn’t far behind, boasting a 31-17 SU and 31-15 ATS mark.

Boston dropped L.A. 110-91 on Dec. 30 as a three-point road underdog at Staples Center, handing the Lakers a rare double-digit loss at home.

Series Price

It’s very rare to see the team that doesn’t own home court advantage listed as the favorite, but that’s the case in this best-of-seven series. Los Angeles has been made a 1/2 favorite (Bet $200 to win $100), while Boston can be purchased at an 8/5 price (Bet $100 to win $160).

The Western Conference has taken seven of the last nine championships, including a three-peat by the Lakers from 1999 to 2002. Boston hasn’t made an appearance in the finals since the 1986-87 playoffs, when they lost to the Lakers in four games.

The line seems fair considering the West is definitely the better than the East as a whole, plus Boston struggled against Atlanta and Cleveland in the first two rounds before stepping up against Detroit in the conference finals.

Los Angeles coasted past Denver in the first round and then stifled both Utah and San Antonio to reach the finals.

The price isn’t too high for the Lakers, considering the numbers against the Nuggets (-750), Jazz (-250) and Spurs (-220) were all higher. Boston has been favored in all three of its postseason battles, so catching money is certainly generous.

Exact Series Result

For those of you not familiar with this future wager, it’s pretty simple. Just predict what team will win the best-of-seven series and in how many games, with 4, 5, 6 and 7 being the only choices.

It’s also a much smarter bet in terms of risk vs. reward.

The Lakers’ Phil Jackson has won nine championships as a head coach, three coming in Los Angeles and six with Chicago. In his nine trips to the NBA Finals, the legendary coach has never faced a Game 7. Perhaps this is the year he gets tested in a decisive battle.

Exact Series Results from
Celtics 4 Games 15-1
Celtics 5 Games 8-1
Celtics 6 Games 5-1
Celtics 7 Games 4-1
Lakers 4 Games 11-2
Lakers 5 Games 4-1
Lakers 6 Games 3-1
Lakers 7 Games 7-2

Looking at the odds above, you can actually find yourself value and limit your risk compared to playing the Lakers on the series price.

If Boston does win this series, most would expect them to claim the crown at home in either Game 6 or 7. That being said, play one-unit on the Celtics to win in six (5/1) and seven (4/1) games. If Boston stops L.A. 4-2, you profit $400 ($500-$100). If it goes to Game 7, then you have a $300 ($400-$100) profit.

The Lakers have finished off the Nuggets in four, Jazz in six and Spurs in five throughout this year’s postseason. The 2-3-2 format has the Lakers playing the middle games at Staples Center. Winning four of five against the team with the league’s best regular season record could be a reach, which leaves you with Lakers winning in six (3/1) or seven (7/2) games. If you play both, you’ll profit $200 ($300 -$100) if the L.A. wins 4-2 or $250 ($350-100) if they close it out in Game 7.

Historians following the Lakers-Celtics rivalry have watched the two teams go at it 10 times in the NBA finals. The most common outcome in the 10 battles has been six and seven, both happening four times a piece. There has been one four-game sweep and one series last just five games.

Most Valuable Player

If the Lakers capture the championship then most would expect the regular season Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant, to repeat the feat in the postseason. Oddsmakers at have listed him as an overwhelming 1/2 favorite (Bet $200 to win $100) to do so. Boston’s Kevin Garnett (5/2) and Paul Pierce (9/2) are the second and third choices behind Bryant.

Both Garnett (21.5 PPG) and Pierce (26.5 PPG) had success in Boston’s two wins against Los Angeles this year, but it’s been the former Kansas Jayhawk (Pierce) that has been taking over late in games. And that’s what the voters will see, especially if Boston wins the title.

It would be surprising to see Bryant not win the award, especially if the Lakers take it all. You could place long shot wagers on Pau Gasol (+750) or Lamar Odom (+1500) but your probably wasting money. While Gasol and Odom aren’t expected to upstage Bryant, gamblers should recall that San Antonio’s Tony Parker took home the award last year as the third choice behind Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

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Betting split for the opener of hyped Finals

While the Lakers are favored to win the series, the Celtics are a slight favorite for Game 1.

Gamblers on the NBA can only hope that the Lakers and Boston Celtics play up to expectations and make this year's Finals a well-contested, seven-game series.

Just imagine: All-day every day for two weeks, Kobe Bryant vs. Boston's trio of all-stars. By the time Game 7 rolled around, pro basketball bets would be in overdrive.

For sports gambling, the timing could not be better for the NBA's marquee event. Ever since the heady days of the 1980s, when the Lakers and Celtics dominated the NBA Finals, the league has had a long list of championship matchups that failed to attract casual bettors.

Whether it was San Antonio's victory over Cleveland last year or the Lakers' four-game sweep over New Jersey in 2002, the Finals have lacked the drama needed to boost betting interest. A lengthy battle between two popular and evenly matched teams could be the answer to that.

Although the Lakers are favored to win the series at -180 (according to's updated odds), Boston is listed as a 2 1/2 -point favorite to win Game 1 at TD Banknorth Garden.

Betting action has been split for Thursday's opener.

With the Lakers' moneyline listed at +110 to +125, heavy money has flowed in their direction to win straight up, according to's betting chart. On some boards, the Lakers had received more than 80% of the early moneyline wagers.

The Celtics held a slight edge when it came to plays against the point spread. As of Tuesday, Boston had received 58.10% of the picks against the point line, according to

It should be noted that both teams will be well rested for Thursday's game and that may be a problem for Boston.

The Lakers, who have not played since they defeated San Antonio to close out the Western Conference finals on May 29, are 8-2 overall and 7-3 against the point spread in their last 10 games with three days or more rest.

When the Celtics -- who have not played since they finished Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals on May 30 -- have had three days or more rest, they are 3-3 overall and 3-3 against the point spread this season.

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