NBA News and Notes June 5

NBA News and Notes June 5

Lakers-Celtics, Game 1
By Chris David

The Lakers and Celtics open up Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight and while the majority of fans are looking forward to the old school rivalry and an exciting series, recent history has shown us that the opener is usually a clunker.

“Commissioner David Stern and the NBA can only blame themselves for lackluster efforts in recent Game 1s of the championship. It’s understood that the television contracts are the bread and butter for most professional sports, but this series should’ve realistically started on Monday or Tuesday at the latest,” said VegasInsider.com handicapper Matt Moore.

“The Lakers haven’t played in a week and the Celtics have been off for six days. In my opinion, anytime you give a team time to prepare, it always helps the defense more than the offense. When you combine time off with a defensive minded club, low scoring games are very common.”

Moore’s comments are backed up with strong trends, especially in Game 1 of the finals.

Seven of the last 10 openers in the NBA Finals have gone ‘under’ the total and two of the three games that did go ‘over’ the total, barely made it. Plus, the other ‘over’ ticket (Sixers-Lakers 2001) that cashed was helped by overtime.

Oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com opened the total on Game 1 at 195 points last Saturday after the matchup was set. Six days later, the number has dropped three points to 192 at most of the Las Vegas and offshore outfits.

Boston is listed as a 2½-point favorite and if you’re looking at trends, then the Celtics might be a solid wager. The home team is 8-2 straight up and 7-3 against the spread. Six of the 10 games have been decided by double digits as well.

Even if you don’t like to play historic trends based on past matchups, it’s hard to ignore the recent success of the Celtics in Game 1 of this year’s playoffs. Boston has gone 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS in the first battle of their first three series, only receiving a scare from Cleveland (76-72) in the conference semifinals.

The Lakers have been just as good as the Celts, going 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS as well. Two of the three wins were by double digits, yet all three games were played at Staples Center.

One edge that leans to Phil Jackson and his troops is the ‘Rest vs. Rust’ factor. Los Angeles owns an impressive 8-2 SU and 7-3 ATS ledger when playing on three days of rest of more, while Boston has gone 3-3 both SU and ATS in the same situation.

Tip off for Game 1 is slated for 9:05 p.m. EDT, with ABC offering national coverage.

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NBA FINALS

(1) L.A. Lakers (12-3, 10-4-1 ATS) at (1) Boston (12-8, 8-12 ATS)


The No. 1 seeds from each conference renew one of the most renowned rivalries in all of sports when the Lakers travel to the TD Banknorth Garden to face the Celtics for Game 1 of the best-of-seven NBA Finals.

Los Angeles closed out the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in five games, winning the clincher 100-92 last Thursday as a 7½-point home chalk to claim its first Western Conference crown since 2004. The Lakers are 12-4-1 ATS in their last 17 starts overall dating to the regular season, including 4-2 ATS in their last six.

Boston took out Detroit in six games to earn the Eastern Conference title and a return trip to the Finals for the first time since 1987. In the clinching Game 6 on Friday, the Celtics posted an 89-81 road win as a five-point underdog. Despite that result, the C’s have struggled at the betting window throughout the playoffs and are just 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games, despite getting a 3-3 ATS split with Detroit.

These longtime rivals met twice in the regular season, with Boston rolling to wins in both contests, which were played before Los Angeles acquired center Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, The Celtics won 107-94 at home in November laying eight points and 110-91 on Dec. 30 catching three points in L.A.

Prior to this season, the Lakers had won three in a row and six of eight head-to-head clashes dating to 2003, and despite the two non-covers this year, L.A. is still 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings. Also, Phil Jackson’s squad has cashed in five of the last six battles in Boston, and the road team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven contests.

The Lakers have four road victories in the 2008 playoffs (4-0 ATS), while the Celtics have just one home loss in 11 postseason games, having dropped Game 2 against the Pistons. However, since cashing in all four home games of a first-round series against Atlanta, Boston is 1-6 ATS on its own floor.

Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant leads all playoff scorers, averaging 31.9 points per game, along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists, while Gasol is averaging 17.7 points and 8.9 rebounds for L.A. in the playoffs. Boston doesn’t have anyone in the top 10 in playoff scoring, with Kevin Garnett checking in at 14th at 21.0 ppg., but Garnett is also hauling down 9.8 rebounds per game. Paul Pierce is Boston’s second-leading scorer, at 19 ppg, and he’s adding 5.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

The Lakers average a playoff-best 105.9 ppg while allowing 99.5. The Celtics aren’t nearly as prolific offensively, putting in just 91.6 ppg in the playoffs, but they’re the top defensive team, giving up just 87.3 ppg. Boston has outrebounded its three playoff opponents by an average of 39.4-36.1 per game, while the Lakers have been outrebounded 43.9-40.5.

The Celtics, who have 16 championships, and the Lakers, who have 14 titles, have met 10 times previously in the NBA Finals. However, this is their first Finals matchup since 1987, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson carried the banner for the league. Boston holds a commanding 8-2 edge in championship series, winning the first eight clashes before Los Angeles – behind Johnson during its “Showtime” era – broke through with victories in 1985 and 1987.

Los Angeles won the 1985 and ’87 series 4-2, overcoming Boston’s homecourt advantage in 1985 and beating the Celts in L.A. to win the title. In 1987,

The Lakers are 0-4-1 ATS in their last five NBA Finals games, stemming from their stunning 2004 championship series loss to Detroit. But the recent pointspread trends are nothing but positive from there for L.A., including 36-16-2 overall, 11-2-1 after a SU win, 7-1 as a road ‘dog of less than five points, 4-0 as a playoff pup of that same price, 19-7-2 as a road underdog and 10-4 against the Eastern Conference. Finally, the Lakers are 15-3-1 ATS this season as an underdog of less than seven points.

The Celtics are 5-1 ATS in their last six against the Western Conference, 7-2 ATS in their last nine at home against teams with a winning road record, 6-2 ATS in their last eight on Thursday and 5-2 ATS in their last seven against the Pacific Division. However, Boston is mired in ATS funks of 0-6 after a spread-cover, 1-4 as a home chalk, 2-5 as a playoff favorite of less than five points, 3-7 after a SU win and 19-39 as a home chalk of less than five points.

Los Angeles stayed under the total in all five games against the Spurs, and the under is on further runs for the team of 6-2 on the highway, 6-1 as a road underdog and 4-1 as a playoff pup. However, the over is 5-1 in the Lakers’ last six against Atlantic Division foes. For Boston, the over is 4-1 in its last five at the Garden, but the under is on runs of 8-3 on Thursdays, 4-1 after a SU win and 4-1 when laying less than five points.

Finally, the over/under split in the two regular-season meetings this year between these rivals, with the under being the play in Boston.

ATS ADVANTAGE: L.A. LAKERS and UNDER

GAMETIMEPICKS.COM

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NBA Today

L.A. Lakers at Boston (9 p.m. EDT). The Lakers and Celtics meet in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987.

BIG DRAW

The NBA finals' television ratings for the last eight years fall into two unmistakable categories: series with the Los Angeles Lakers, and series without them. The four times that the Lakers - with their large market, big stars and storied tradition - reached the sport's grandest stage, the finals' average rating was never lower than a 10.2. The four times they weren't involved, the number was never above an 8.5.

SPEAKING

``We've all been on that side of the fence, where everybody pats you on your back and tells you they love you because you hit the last-second shot. Now, it's about winning, and being able to say that you won, and being to that certain promised land that everybody talks about trying to get to. We know we need each other to get there. Sometimes doing less is more.'' - Boston's Ray Allen on the synergy of the Celtics' Big Three: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen. The Celtics host the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA finals on Thursday night.

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Lakers, Celtics ready to renew rivalry

BOSTON (AP) -Nearing Super Bowl-like proportions, the buildup has included black-and-white footage from the 1960s - images of Red Auerbach puffing a victory cigar, Bill Russell swatting away a shot and Jerry West rising for a jumper.

We've revisited the 1980s, taken back to those days of Ronald Reagan, bad haircuts and short shorts by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the icons whose meetings on the court defined an era and resurrected a league.

Memories of hard fouls, big shots, Jack Nicholson's shades and chants of ``Beat L.A.''

All of it has led up to the rebirth of a rivalry, THE rivalry: Boston vs. Los Angeles. Celtics vs. Lakers.

``I've watched more Lakers-Boston games over the last three days on TV,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ``It's been great. It's been fun to watch.''

It's time to watch again.

Like long, lost fraternity brothers who left school, drifted apart and barely kept in touch, the Celtics and Lakers are getting back together in a place they both know so well - the NBA finals.

``I feel like a little kid,'' said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who grew up in L.A. and used to sneak into the Lakers' home arena. ``Now I understand that, hey, I'm going to be a part of history. This is something I grew up watching, the Laker-Celtics rivalries.''

Following a 21-year separation, pro basketball's pillars of power will revive their rivalry Thursday night in Boston for Game 1 of a best-of-seven series drenched in nostalgia and stuffed with hoops history.

The famed franchises, who have combined to win 30 of 61 championships, are squaring off in the finals for the 11th time and first since 1987. These finals figure to deliver a needed jolt of excitement to the league, which began the 2007-08 season entangled in a gambling probe involving one of its referees and whose signature event has strained to recapture the sporting spotlight since the '80s, when Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic was a rite of spring.

Television ratings are expected to jump dramatically thanks to a finals loaded with juicy storylines: Kobe Bryant's run toward a fourth championship ring - and first without Shaquille O'Neal; Boston's Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen shooting for their first ones; and Lakers coach Phil Jackson trying to win his record 10th title, one more than Auerbach, the Celtics' late legend whose presence hovers over the team like smoke from one of his stogies.

``I think this is a great thing not just for the NBA, but just for sports in general,'' Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. ``I think it's a great thing when the best gets a chance to compete against the best, and whoever comes out on top, they earned it. I think both teams should be proud to be here.''

A year ago, it would have been impossible to imagine these hardwood Goliaths in the playoffs, never mind clashing for a title.

The Celtics won 24 games last season, and all the mystique and charm that makes them special had seemingly vanished. Last year, Boston's immediate future looked bleak after the club failed to win the NBA lottery, a devastating blow for a team in full rebuild mode.

But the green-and-white began its rebound on draft night last June, when general manager Danny Ainge traded first for Allen and later managed to land Garnett, a superstar stuck in Minnesota, and a player, as it turns out, who almost became a Laker.

``We gave a great chase to Garnett last year,'' Jackson said Wednesday before his team practiced. ``We put a lot of pressure on the Minnesota franchise and felt like we had the inside track on that, and that we could end up missing out on that opportunity and still be here in this challenge, the finals, is really kind of a great story in itself.''

For the Lakers, though, nothing trumps what Bryant has done to get the franchise within four wins of a 15th championship. After the club was bounced in the first round of the playoffs last season, a frustrated Bryant challenged the team's front office to upgrade the roster.

By summer, he was demanding a trade while at the same time enhancing his reputation as a selfish, arrogant, egomaniacal player. In truth, Bryant just wanted to win - badly - and didn't want to be on a team that didn't share his drive.

However, in his 12th season, Bryant has matured on and off the floor. He has led by example, mentoring the Lakers' younger players and winning his first MVP award, an honor he probably deserved in the past but never received in part because of his perceived me-first, team-second image.

``He's the captain of this team, and we follow his lead,'' Lamar Odom said. ``Kobe is the first one in the gym, the last one to leave. He's the first one in the weight room, the last one to leave. If we have a 10 o'clock practice, Kobe is there at 8:45 preparing to be the best.

``And some of that has rubbed off on me and my teammates, and that's the only reason why I'm sitting here talking today.''

Bryant understands the importance of the league's fiercest rivalry and what it means to uphold the Lakers' legacy of greatness.

``It's such a rich tradition,'' he said. ``I think when you look up at the jerseys that hang in the rafters at Staples Center, and with the Celtics, as well, they're not only great Lakers players, but they're some of the greatest to ever play. So that's a great deal to live up to.''

And this series, with its link to games of yesteryear, is no different.

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NBA Finals Gameday
By David Harrison

A historic rivalry gets renewed on Thursday night when the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics clash in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

This will mark the 11th time that the Lakers and Celtics have met up in the Finals, and the first since 1987. Starting in 1959 the Celtics and Lakers met up in the Finals seven times in 10 seasons, with Boston winning seven championships at the expense of the Lakers. Boston racked up another Finals win versus the Lakers in 1984, before the Lakers finally got some revenge with victories over the Celtics in the Finals in ’85 and ’87.

This year’s matchup picks up where the old rivalry left off, with Bird and Magic replaced by Garnett and Kobe. Both have plenty to prove, as Kevin Garnett will be out to finally win the championship he never came close to achieving while in Minnesota all those years, while Kobe Bryant is out to prove he doesn’t need Shaq at his side to win a championship.

Both Los Angeles and Boston head into the Finals well rested. The Lakers have been off for a week since knocking off the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, while Boston’s last game was a day later when they finished off Detroit in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

During the regular season Boston and Los Angeles met up twice with the Celtics easily winning both contests. Way back in November the Celtics defeated the Lakers 107-94 as an 8-point favorite. Bryant led the Lakers with 28 points, while Garnett delivered 21 points and 11 rebounds for Boston.

In the rematch in Los Angeles a month later, the Celtics beat up on the Lakers again in a 110-91 win as a 2-point underdog. Paul Pierce did the most damage for Boston with 33 points, while Bryant dropped in 22 points for the Lakers.

With Game 1 of the Finals taking place at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, the Celtics are a 2.5-point favorite.

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Behind the lines

No shortage of prop bets for NBA Finals


Lakers' Kobe Bryant is focus of several wagers.

After a lengthy break, the NBA playoffs will return tonight with the Lakers and Boston Celtics meeting in Game 1 of the Finals at TD Banknorth Garden.

Traditional bets have the Celtics listed as 2 1/2 -point favorites with the over/under at 192 points.

The moneyline for tonight has the Lakers at +115 and Boston at -135, according to Sportsbetting.com.

For gamblers interested in proposition bets for this year's NBA Finals, no one gets more attention than the Lakers' Kobe Bryant.

Pinnaclesports.com has eight different bets connected to Bryant, while Sportsbook.com has six and Bodoglife.com has five.

Here are some of the bets involving Bryant at Pinnacle-sports.com: Will Bryant be named Finals' MVP? Yes (-169) or No (+149); Bryant's highest scoring game in the series? Over 39 1/2 points (-118) or uder 39 1/2 points (+102); Will Bryant foul out of any game in the series? Yes (+1,200) or No (-1,700).

From Sportsbook.com: Bryant's total three-point baskets made in Game 1? Zero (7-2), one (2-3), two (3-1), three (8-1) or more than three (10-1); Will Bryant average more points than Boston's Larry Bird (27.4 points) did against Lakers in 1984 Finals? Bird +2.5 points (-115) or Bryant -2.5 points (-115).

From Bodoglife.com: Bryant's average combined rebounds and assists per game in the series? Over 11.5 (-115) or under 11.5 (-115); Bryant's scoring average per game in the series? Over 28.5 points (-125) or under 28.5 (-105).

------

More NBA Finals: The honor for the most interesting prop bet involving Boston goes to Bodoglife.com's historical wager regarding Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Bird, who combined to average 61.2 points against the Lakers in the 1987 Finals.

And the bet?

Which Big Three will average more combined points? Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen: +1.5 points (+105) or Parish, McHale and Bird (61.2 points): -1.5 points (-135).

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Thursday's best NBA bets
Covers.com

L.A. Lakers at Boston Celtics -2½,  192

If you've been wringing your hands and refreshing your odds board for the last few days, dying for Game 1 between the Lakers and Celtics, just imagine how jacked Kobe Bryant is right now. He's been waiting for this since he was eight.

The L.A. Daily News reported this week that when Bryant was living in Italy as a kid, his grandfather would mail him tapes of the 1987 Celtics-Lakers showdown so he could stay in the loop. He told the News he hated the Celtics then and there's no doubt he'll hate them again at some point in this series.

Of course, the Finals aren't all about Kobe. The Celtics are a group that can beat you a lot of different ways, no matter who's up against them on the other side of the court. LeBron James knows all about that. But it's worth noting that James gave Boston everything it could handle with a weaker supporting staff than the one that Bryant has. Matchups could end up being a major concern for the Celtics, who pride themselves on defense.

Tony Allen likely won't be fit to guard Bryant as he's suffering from an Achilles' tendon issue, while Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are a handful for any team when they're on their game. And even though home court has ruled this postseason, the Finals may be a different story. Detroit proved the Celtics are beatable in Boston. Maybe Los Angeles can do the same.

Pick: Lakers

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NBA Finals sets up betting extravaganza
By JULIAN DICKINSON

The Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals isn’t just a dream matchup for David Stern and the NBA; it’s also an ideal scenario for bookmakers.

These are two of the most heavily wagered teams in the NBA to begin with. Add the gratuitous media hype that has inspired TV producers all over the country to put old Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson highlight tapes on a constant repeat, and you have the makings of a certified betting orgy.

“I’m guessing it will generate the most action since some of the Jordan/Bulls finals,” says Caesar’s Palace race and sports book manager Chuck Esposito. “I would easily put the Lakers and Celtics as one and two or one and three (most popular NBA bets), the only other teams that draw that much interest in the NBA would also be the Bulls and Knicks. The action in the finals should be unreal.”

With a Final Four type handle, it means all the conventional betting rules go out the window in this Finals. Bookmakers will be more careful with the lines they set and public money will play a much larger role in how the numbers are adjusted prior to tip-off.

It could also mean an edge for the savvy bettor.

“There is almost always an advantage for sharp bettors in situations where public money must be accounted for in the linesmaking process,” says Covers Expert Ted Sevransky. “Remember, with the lone exception of the NFL, lines are set in every other sport to beat the professional bettors, not the public.

“In a series like this, with an influx of public money, the betting marketplace can get skewed. In particular, I expect the sportsbooks to over-adjust from one game to the next, based on the public's reaction to the previous game.”

The series promises to be an intriguing one from a betting perspective. Although both teams were dominant through the regular season, the Lakers have established themselves as the much better wager throughout the playoffs (10-4-1 ATS) – and did so against the tougher Western Conference opposition.

The Celtics, after going 52-28 through the regular season, fizzled in the playoffs and head into the Finals with an 8-12 ATS mark in the postseason. They went seven games in early series against unlikely challengers such as Atlanta and Cleveland.

Still, the Celtics won both meetings against the Lakers this season, including a 110-91 win in L.A., but both games took place before the arrival Pau Gasol, who should provide an answer to Kevin Garnett and perhaps prevent the Celtics' big man from dominating as he did with 43 points and 23 rebounds in the two Celtics wins against L.A.

The Celtics go into Game 1 as slight 2 ½-point favorites, which dipped from an original 3-point spread and could go even lower as we get closer to Thursday’s tip-off.

All this has adds up to create fairly short odds for the eventual NBA champion. The Western Conference champion isn’t a runaway favorite to take the title with the Lakers at -160 to beat the Celtics (+140). With the talent and depth on both sidelines in this series, it’s important for bettors to remember that these teams are fairly evenly matched.

As with almost every series throughout these NBA playoffs, the deciding factor could be the ability to win on the road. Even though bettors fell in love with home favorites as almost every playoff team struggled away from home, Sevransky thinks road dogs might be where the money is in the Finals.

“Nobody seems to have noticed, but road teams had a winning ATS record in the two conference finals (6-5 ATS) after their collectively horrific showings in Round 2,” the Covers Expert handicapper notes. “That number would be 7-4 were it not for Sasha Vujacic's three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 5 against the Spurs.

“I expect the betting marketplace – in particular square bettors – to over-value home courts here in the Finals as well.”

Covers.com

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NBA Finals Matchups
Bryan Leonard

The NBA Finals finds the top two teams in each conference meeting, old rivals the Lakers and Celtics. It’s a battle of matchups and tempo. The Lakers are young, athletic and prefer an uptempo pace, averaging 108 ppg this season. Boston can play both styles, but prefers an intense, defensive style, which has been evident in all their playoff wins.

The matchups are going to be fascinating to watch. In the low post, Boston has star Kevin Garnett and young Kendrick Perkins, who has impressed in the postseason in several games. LA has Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. Odom and Gasol have been perfect complements to Kobe Bryant. Note that Bryant, the league MVP, was a poor 15-46 from the floor in the two games combined against Boston this season.

The Celtics took those two games by 19 and 13 points, but Gasol hadn’t joined the team yet. Gasol for Kwame Brown is going down as one of the worst trade in NBA history, if not THE worst. The Lakers should send an Xmas card to first-year Memphis GM Chris Wallace, who ran the Celtics into the ground before Danny Ainge started the resurrection. With Gasol and Odom as running mates, Bryant gets even more room to maneuver. As a team, the Lakers are shooting 47.8 percent in the postseason. Bryant is averaging 5.8 assists.

The Boston defensive transformation this season is largely the result of first-year assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, who demands all players hustle on defense and get a hand in every shooter’s face. Boston had the best defensive rating in basketball by a wide margin. In Game 1 against Cleveland, superstar LeBron James was 2-for-18 against the Celtics. It’s hard to imagine Kobe struggling like that, but the point is, the Celtics attack everywhere on ‘D’ (at least at home). They are a poor 2-7 SU/ATS on the road, though.

San Antonio has a couple of regulars from the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, and all Kobe did was score 29.2 points and shoot 53.3 percent in the conference finals. For the 2008 playoffs as a whole, Bryant is averaging 32 points on 51 percent shooting. The Celtics had some success in their two meetings with Kobe in the regular season. He averaged just 25 points on 32.6 percent shooting, going 6-for-25 from the floor when the Celts won their fourth game in five nights on Dec. 30 in LA. He went 9-for-21 in LA on Nov. 23. The first was November 23 in Boston, and the 10-1 Celtics beat the 7-5 Lakers 104-97. The second was December 30 in L.A., when the 26-3 Celtics beat the 19-11 Lakers 110-91. Boston shot 49% in the two games.

That second meeting was interesting, as both teams were fired up. There were six technicals, and Garnett got stitches above his eye. Bryant took 46 shots in the two meetings, which he made into 50 points by going 17-20 from the line. He had only six assists, in the two games combined. Of course, the Lakers are so much better with Gasol up front as a rebounder and all-around offensive option. And Cleveland was 2-0 against the Spurs last year, then got swept in the Finals.

The more interesting matchup is who will guard Kobe? Ray Allen did most of the time during the regular season, but that’s not a good matchup for Boston in a series like this. Allen is much shorter, in his 30s and mainly a long range jump shooter on offense. When Allen had foul trouble, Paul Pierce handled some possessions and Pierce, at 6-7, has been outstanding defensively in the playoffs.

Perhaps some non-stars are going to stand out, as is often the case. Kendrick Perkins had a huge game the first time the two teams met in November. Perkins had 21 points on ten shots, nine boards, just one foul.

It should be an interesting series. The Celtics haven’t looked like the team that won 66-regular season games, needing 20 out of a maximum 21 playoff games to get here. They struggled badly on the road against the Hawks and Cavs, looking lost at times at both ends of the floor. Bryant said this week, 'I'm really looking forward to playing the Celtics, there is so much history between the two franchises, it's going to be an extremely special series.' Let the games begin!

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