The NBA Finals are scheduled to begin Sunday with the Lakers and Detroit having the inside track.
These franchises met twice in the late 1980’s with Pat Riley’s Lakers defeating Chuck Daly’s Pistons in seven games to win the 1987-88 title. Los Angeles became the first team in nearly 20 seasons to win consecutive titles.
Then the Pistons swept Los Angeles the following year to win the first of their back to back titles, matching the Lakers feat after beating Portland in the NBA Finals for the second championship.
NBA historians point to the Detroit Pistons of that era — the notorious "Bad Boys" — as the team that really began the trend towards intense defense following the Lakers’ fast paced brand of "Show Time" that dominated most of the decade. In fact, either Boston or the Lakers (or both) were in the NBA Finals 10 straight seasons before Detroit met Portland for the 1989-90 NBA Title.
The Lakers won five titles over that span so when Detroit won their two, it was considered that a new era of NBA basketball had been ushered in. Yet when the Pistons swept the Lakers, Detroit averaged 109 points per game to Los Angeles’ 102.3.
The Pistons topped 100 points in all four games while Los Angeles did not score below 97. A year earlier when the Lakers defeated the Pistons in seven games the Lakers averaged nearly 99 and Detroit over 101. A year later against Portland, the Pistons averaged 107 points per game.
Slightly more than a decade later those numbers would usually lead the league in per game averages. This should give the younger fans reading these words an idea of just how entertaining the NBA game was in the 1980s.
East: How low can you go
If you like low scoring, these are your games. The first five in the series averaged 150.6 total points, with the offensive "explosion" coming in Detroit’s 85-78 win in Game 3 that produced 163. That was the only contest to go "over" the posted total. A combination of poor shooting and great defense has contributed to some of the most difficult basketball to watch in years.
Not that the Western Conference Finals have featured all that more scoring. Through five games the Lakers and Timberwolves are averaging 181.0 total points per game. While that is 20 percent more than Detroit and Indiana are averaging, there has also been a very wide variance between the lowest output (160 in Game 2) and the highest (194 in Game 5).
At least the two Western foes are running the court and taking shots more frequently than every 20 seconds, but there have also been a lot of fouls and physical play inside. Considering that Minnesota has been without star Sam Cassell for most of the series, this has been a pretty good representation. It’s the kind of basketball the NBA would prefer.
Both the Lakers (on Memorial Day) and Detroit (a day later) are favored to wrap up their series in six games. Indiana has been the best in the East all season. In a Game 7 at home, the Pacers laying 4 or less, would be the pick.
West: Wolves hope to get home
Home teams are especially strong in Game 7 situations historically, winning more than 80 percent of the time. Should Minnesota take the Lakers back to the Twin Cities, it will be very interesting to see the books line. The Lakers have been favored in the three previous games in Minnesota.
The Lakers were the most recent team to overcome that Game 7 history when they won at Sacramento just two seasons ago in overtime to advance to the NBA Finals. This season, the Lakers have been even money or odds-on favorites to win the Title. They would be the play in a Game 7 if laying no more than 3.
Looking ahead to Finals:
The Lakers or Minnesota will be favored over Detroit or Indiana. While the Lakers should defeat either of their Eastern Conference foes, the pick here will be for either Detroit or Indiana to win the NBA Title if facing Minnesota no matter the status of Cassell.
Indiana would enjoy the home court advantage over either Minnesota or the Lakers while both Western Conference teams would have that edge against Detroit. Note that the Finals are a 2-3-2 format with the three middle games being played at the site of the lower seeded team. Never has a team won all three of those middle games at home.
Our plays would be on the home team in Game 1 and, if that indeed occurred, going with the road team in Game 2. If the road team steals Game 1, then the Game 2 play becomes the home team looking to avoid trailing 0-2.
During the regular season Minnesota beat Detroit twice, both wins by a single point. The Timberwolves split their two games with Indiana, winning by 22 at home and losing by 23 in Indiana.
The Lakers split their series with both Indiana and Detroit. At home the Lakers beat Detroit by 5 and Indiana by 22. On the road, the Lakers lost by 10 at Detroit and 13 at Indiana. Three of the games were played within a two-week period in late November. The most recent game was played Feb. 2 when Indiana hosted and defeated Los Angeles.
Enjoy the Finals and may the first team to 85 points be victorious.