The 2008 NBA Finals are set and to many will seem like old times as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics vie for the title.
Both teams will be well-rested as the opening game of the series will be this Thursday night in Boston. The Lakers wrapped up their five game series against San Antonio this past Friday night. The Celtics’ Game 6 series clincher against Detroit occurred a night later on the road.
During this past regular season Boston won and covered both games against the Lakers. The games were played prior to the end of 2007. In late November, Boston defeated the Lakers 107-94 at home and some six weeks later the Celtics won again, 110-91 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Both games produced an identical 201 total points, keeping the first meeting under the total by a scant three points. The second meeting went over the total by an even scantier single point.
By virtue of having the best record in the NBA during the regular season (66-16) Boston enjoys the homecourt advantage for the NBA Finals and will host the first two games along with Games 6 and 7 (if needed) in the traditional format of 2-3-2.
The Lakers are -185 to win the NBA Title with the takeback on the Celtics at +165. Certainly a case can be made for the Lakers having come from the stronger conference and being much more impressive than Boston during this playoff season.
However, the Celtics did win nine more regular season games than did Los Angeles – including both meetings as detailed above. And the Celts have the homecourt advantage for what could be decisive sixth and seventh games.
Thus far in the playoffs Boston is 12-8 straight up (SU) but just 8-12 against the spread (ATS). Boston is 10-1 SU at home (just 6-5 ATS) and 2-7 on the road (also 2-7 ATS). Of their 20 playoff games, 11 have stayed under the projected total.
The Lakers had much less trouble getting through the playoffs in the much tougher Western Conference, going 12-3 SU and 9-4-2 ATS. They are 8-0 SU at home (5-2-1 ATS) and 4-3 on the road straight up (4-2-1 ATS).
Los Angeles has seen 10 of its 15 games go under the total, including all five against San Antonio.
Both Boston and the Lakers were the top seeds in their respective conferences meaning that form has held true insofar as the teams reaching the NBA Finals is concerned.
That should make for good plays for the underdog.
In Game 1, Boston is a 2½-point favorite (total 192½) at the Las Vegas Hilton, a rather small price to lay considering how well Boston has played at home throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
At the same time the goal of the Lakers should be to do no worse than earn a split of the first two road games before heading back home to host at least the next two games as well as a Game 5 if there is no series sweep.
One strategy to follow would be to respect the strong homecourt in the series’ opening game and lay the 2½ with Boston and, if successful, come back and play the Lakers as pretty much a similar short-priced road underdog in Game 2.
Should the Lakers upset Boston in Game 1, the Celtics would again be the play in Game 2 as a likely four-point favorite.
For Game 3 in Los Angeles, the play would be on the Lakers if they are down 0-2 or if they are laying less than 5. At +6 or more, the Celtics would make for an attractive play.
This series also shapes up as being more low-scoring than high. Both regular-season meetings totaled exactly the same 201 points, but playoff basketball tends to be significantly lower scoring. The preference would be to look first towards the under, especially if the totals remain above 190.
For the series, it’s easy to make a case for the Lakers. They do have more recent postseason experience over the past decade than does Boston, including a trio of championships. Their key cog, Kobe Bryant, is still the game’s best player.
Boston, though, exceeded expectations this season following the addition of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett last offseason. The Celtics started the season strongly and for the most part were consistently solid. They did struggle on the road in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but then took two of three road games at Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Having the potential for both a Game 6 and 7 at home should the series go that long makes Boston the choice to win the NBA Title.
The call: Boston in 6.
The veteran leadership of Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce will be enough to overcome the extraordinary talent of Bryant and his very capable supporting cast that includes Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher among others.
In next week’s column we’ll reassess this series as the first two games will have been played and the teams shall be headed west for Game 3 next Tuesday, June 10.