BOSTON (AP) -While Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers used an explosive offense to reach the NBA finals, their defensive adjustments were critical as well.
Now, after getting past the likes of Utah's Carlos Boozer and San Antonio's Tim Duncan in the Western Conference playoffs, they face perhaps their most daunting challenge in Boston's Kevin Garnett, a versatile 7-footer who can do damage from the inside as well as the perimeter.
``My favorite word in this series is going to be `help,''' Lakers forward Lamar Odom said Wednesday. ``A guy like that, you need as much help as possible.''
Pau Gasol figures to be matched up on Garnett most of the time when the finals begin Thursday night, but Odom and just about everyone else who plays for the Lakers will be called upon to add support.
``You can't stop him,'' Gasol said. ``I'll try to make it as tough for him as I can. I thought I did a decent job on Tim Duncan. Every one of us is going to have to do his best.''
Their best was certainly good enough in the first three rounds of the playoffs. After sweeping Denver, the Lakers had their hands full against Utah before winning in six games thanks in great part to their defensive effort against the burly Boozer, who was pretty well held in check in five of the six games.
Duncan dominated Gasol in the first half of the first game in the conference finals, but the Lakers were much more effective against the Spurs' star after that, and also did a good job defensively against Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen provide outside shooting threats, but the key would seem to be Garnett, a player the Lakers targeted last summer, with Odom reportedly part of the package offered to Minnesota. But they lost out to the Celtics.
Garnett spent his first 12 NBA seasons with the Timberwolves - a Western Conference team.
``We have faced him in the playoffs before,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``Three of our players were in that 2004 playoffs against Minnesota and obviously know his effect on the series, even out to the 3-point line as a shooter.''
Garnett was the MVP that season, but the Timberwolves lost to the Lakers in the conference finals - the closest he came to reaching the NBA finals before this year.
Garnett averaged 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in two games against Los Angeles this season. The Celtics won both, but they came before the Lakers acquired the 7-foot Gasol from Memphis on Feb. 1.
Garnett is averaging 21.1 points and 9.8 rebounds in 20 playoff games.
``You have to try to front him, try to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible,'' Odom said. ``He's so tall, so strong, so athletic, he's going to catch the ball. Of course he can shoot the ball from 18, 19 feet. He dunks the basketball. So you have to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. He runs like a gazelle. You have to just keep your body on him, move your feet, contest his shots.
``Kevin Garnett is going to take and make some shots that you can't help. You've got to be right in his face. I'm 6-10. When he jumps and turns over me, all I see is the number 5.''
Boston coach Doc Rivers sees similarities between these Lakers and the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, who won two of their three finals matchups with the Celtics, most recently in 1987.
``They're a better defensive team than people give them credit for,'' Rivers said. ``Everyone saw the flash with the Showtime Lakers, no one saw the grit. They (were) a great defensive team, a great interior defensive team. You never hear about the (coach Pat) Riley teams being a great defensive team, but they were.
``They're very good. they do a great job of denials on elbows and wings, and we're going to have to deal with that pressure.''
The Lakers and Celtics are meeting in the finals for the 11th time and the first since 1987 - the last time the Celtics got this far.
``I'm looking forward to going out here and competing against this great team in the New England area and doing my best,'' said Odom, who played his only collegiate season at nearby Rhode Island.

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