Celtics and Lakers Closely Matched in Battle for NBA Championship

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Celtics and Lakers Closely Matched in Battle for NBA Championship The playoffs are all about matchups, right?

That's what they say. And starting Thursday night, everyone's favorite NBA matchup will take center stage, as two historical rivals take the floor for the 2010 Finals.

Celtics versus Lakers. Kobe Bryant versus Ray Allen. Kevin Garnett versus Pau Gasol. It's the best of the best, and one team will stand alone when the dust settles as NBA champions.

So who wins? It's all about matchups, so here's how the Finals break down:

Point guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher
Without question, the most lopsided matchup on the list. Rondo is the key to this series — if Boston can exploit the mismatch between him and the Lakers' fossil of a point guard, banner No. 18 is on the horizon. Rondo is young, fast, explosive and on the hot streak of a lifetime; Fisher is old, slow and the clear weak link on a Laker team that's loaded with All-Star talent. If Rondo can run and gun the Lakers into the ground, the Celtics are in good shape. So who's better? There's no question about it. Let's move on.
Edge: Celtics

Shooting guard: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant
Allen is a solid man-to-man defender against even the best opposing shooting guards. But Kobe is playing so well right now that it doesn't matter who guards him — he just hits impossible shots and there's nothing you can do about it. Kobe is the best player on the floor in this series, and the Lakers will go as far as he can take them. As for Allen, he's quietly had a superb postseason as the Celtics' lethal perimeter weapon, but he's no match for the Lakers' living legend.
Edge: Lakers

Small forward: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest
Another key to this series? Artest. The Celtics won the Finals two years ago because Pierce and Allen together were too much for the Lakers to handle. Pierce was able to roam the floor, get his shot anywhere he wanted, and basically overwhelm the L.A. defense. With the addition of Artest, the Lakers are a much improved defensive team, and they just might have what it takes to control Boston's shooters. But Artest has aged a little, and he's not the defender he once was. Until Artest proves otherwise, smart money's on the '08 Finals MVP to win this matchup.
Edge: Celtics

Power forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol
A couple months ago, this one was no contest. Gasol is one of the best big men in the NBA, and the aging, banged-up Garnett was no match. But KG has come on strong this spring with two healthy knees, and while he's not the same player he was in '08, he's definitely close. The man knows how to rise to the occasion in a big series, and we can expect to see his best effort these next couple of weeks. He's got enough in the tank to play Gasol to a draw.
Edge: Push

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum
Both are solid big men — active, strong, physical, and very important to the defensive schemes on their respective teams. Neither team can win this series without a strong effort from its man down low. While both youngsters have what it takes to give a big Finals performance, the edge goes to Bynum, who's a more versatile offensive player who adds another dimension to the Lakers' game. Although if Bynum's knee keeps acting up, we may have to reevaluate this one.
Edge: Lakers

Bench
The Lakers have Lamar Odom and not much else. Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton — sorry, but none of these guys are the smart, mature role players you'd like to bring off your bench in an NBA Finals. As for the Celtics, they've got depth the Lakers can only dream about. Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace give the C's extra size, Tony Allen's your defensive stopper, and both Michael Finley and Nate Robinson know how to step up and hit a big shot when you need it. This one's no contest.
Edge: Celtics

Coach: Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson
You can't overstate how impressive Doc has been this season, keeping the Celtics confident and composed despite all the turmoil they've been through this season. He's exactly the kind of level-headed, honest coach you want running a team of no-nonsense veterans like the Celtics. But Doc, for all his strengths, can't yet compare to the Zen Master, who's already got enough rings for both thumbs, both pinkies and every finger in between.
Edge: Lakers

Overall
We've got Celtics three, Lakers three, and one draw. Needless to say, it's a close race, and there's a close series to come. But the Celtics have what it takes to push their edges — the Lakers are going to have a real problem matching Rondo's speed and athleticism, and they've got no answer for the deep bench the Celtics will roll out. This series will be close, but you're looking at a team in green that knows how to exploit every advantage it can get.
Edge: Ever so slightly, to the Celtics. They'll take the series in seven.

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