The NBA kicks off its championship round tonight, and on Frequency, that means one thing: Local hip-hop duo Top Shelf is back with its second annual NBA Finals preview. Pay attention, because MCs Amsterdam and Middle know their roundball, and they love to talk about roundball. Translation: This is long and packed with knowledge, so be sure to click below for the whole enchilada. And, if you’re interested, here’s last year’s preview.
Amsterdam: The 2009-10 NBA Playoffs have been headlined by two big stories: The Los Angeles Lakers’ continued dominance of the Western Conference and the Boston Celtics’ resurgence to greatness after a dismal regular season in which they finished their final 54 games going 27-27. Kobe Bryant’s individual brilliance has been the key for Los Angeles, with many around the world saying they’ve never seen him play better. For Boston, the story has been the poise and execution of the Celtics’ veterans as well as the emergence of Rajon Rondo as the team’s best player. Heading into tonight’s Game 1 of the Finals, Boston has played 17 consecutive games in which a different player has led the Celtics in points. This is a rivalry with years of history behind it and potentially could make for one of the best Finals in recent memory. As some of you may know, I’m a diehard Celtics fan, so this preview just might contain a moderate amount of (Len) Bias. That said, Middle is a certified Kobe fan(atic) and can’t necessarily be trusted either.
Middle: When Diggy told me it was that time of the year again to give our breakdown of the NBA Finals, I got excited, seeing as how Diggy’s the biggest Celtic fan around. I let him know I couldn’t wait to explain why we (the Lakers) would beat him (the Celtics). Why is that? Four letters, one word: KOBE! That being said, let’s break down the starting line-ups…
Center: Andrew Bynum (Lakers) vs. Kendrick Perkins (Celtics)
Amsterdam: While Andrew Bynum is clearly one of the best up-and-coming post players in the game, he will be playing at less than 100 percent due to a torn meniscus in his knee. Perkins has continued to make a name for himself as a thuggishly effective post defender and enforcer, able to lock up the likes of Dwight Howard one-on-one in the Eastern Conference finals. Both players anchor their respective defenses and discourage opposing teams from penetrating inside. The key in this matchup might actually have nothing to do with points and rebounds; Perkins has six technical fouls so far in the playoffs and will be suspended for a game if he picks up another one. His physical brand of basketball combined with his poor reputation among referees (including an inexcusable propensity for “acting a fool” after calls that don’t go his way) lead me to believe he will be watching at least one of the games from home. Bynum should be able to take advantage if Perkins misses time due to suspension or foul trouble.
Middle: While I like Perkins’ strength and tenacity, Bynum is too skilled and athletic to let him get in the way. Look for Bynum to jump over Perkins for some pretty major dunks and rebounds in L.A. I’m calling it now, as Bynum plays better at home. I heard a rumor back when that he was dating Rihanna, which could very well be why.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Power Forward: Pau Gasol (Lakers) vs. Kevin Garnett (Celtics)
Middle: Allow me to begin with a quote from my good friend Amsterdam on this one, in reference to a possible trade earlier this year: “I’ll trade you an expiring contract for KG’s decomposing body.” I think that sums it up for KG. I will give it to him; he’s a great on-ball defender, but considering he doesn’t “have soul like a 7-foot Spaniard” (© Amsterdam), I don’t see it helping much. His ailing body will get in the way of Pau running him around the court wherever he pleases.
Advantage: The Spanish Inquisition (Los Angeles)
Amsterdam: First of all, there was a period when KG genuinely looked like his career was over. He has gone through a few stretches of really bad basketball this year. But that was the regular season, and the playoffs have been a different story. Middle would know that if he paused to take his eyes off that number 24 jersey once in a while. Since being acquired by the Lakers before the trading deadline in 2008, Pau Gasol has not-so-quietly become the best offensive post player in the NBA. He has a vast array of fine-tuned finesse moves around the basket. He has the unselfishness, awareness and grace to take advantage of the triangle offense by feeding cutters or making the extra pass to an open player. He has a neck beard so prolific that Spain actually has a dedicated national holiday for it. All that being said, Gasol wants nothing to do with Kevin Garnett. KG absolutely destroyed Gasol when these two went head-to-head in the Finals two years ago, and although his numbers are down offensively, KG’s defense looks every bit as intimidating today as it did in 2008. KG is such a competitive maniac that he genuinely takes it personally when someone scores on him. Ask Rashard Lewis. Or Antawn Jamison. Or Michael Beasley. You get my point.
Small Forward: Ron Artest (Lakers) vs. Paul Pierce (Celtics)
Amsterdam: You know that grungy, dumpy looking guy back in school who inexplicably had a hot girlfriend? Your friends wondered why she stuck with him. You were always borderline jealous, even if you wouldn’t admit it to yourself. Nobody ever really knew how or why it happened, they just knew there seemed to be a bunch of people mad at what they perceived as an injustice. Well, Paul Pierce is that dude, and in this case the proverbial hot girl would be an NBA Finals MVP award. Whatever he lacks in speed, quickness, muscle definition and face-shaving adeptness he more than makes up for with savvy footwork, a high basketball IQ and the ability to thrive in clutch situations. On the other side, Artest is one of the best individual on-ball defenders in the league with a knack for getting under opponents’ skin. However, his questionable shot selection and decision-making must have Chief Triangle a little on edge. To be honest, nothing really surprises me with Ron Artest anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him erupt into “Ronnie from Jersey Shore” mode after a hard foul from the Celtics’ front line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shave more awkward designs into his hair (I kind of hope he does). I wouldn’t be surprised if he performed one of his rap songs at halftime. About the only thing that would surprise me is if he’s able to consistently knock down the long jumpers Boston’s defense will inevitably make him take. But hey, like KG said, “Anything’s posssssssssible!”
Middle: This is a match-up I can’t wait to see. On one hand, you have quite possibly the best one-on-one defender (my apologies Shane Battier) in the league. On the other you have a guy who can absolutely score at will. If Artest can find good position inside while keeping his ugly out-of-sync jump shots to a minimum, while still managing to keep the brakes on Pierce, look for L.A. to have an edge here. Hard to bet money on someone who has admitted to drinking at half-time though.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant (Lakers) vs. Ray Allen (Celtics)
Middle: Ray Allen will be needing a little help from another Jesus besides Shuttlesworth for this match-up. I am admitting my Kobe-bias ways when it comes to the shooting guard position, but when you’re the best player in basketball, you’ve earned that. No matter what Kobe has had for dinner the past two years, the aftertaste is always kelly green. And he’s sick of it. I can only imagine he is beyond hungry to get that bad taste out of his mouth, and it starts by picking Ray Allen apart. Play by play, scene by scene. (End scene, exit Jesus Shuttlesworth.)
Advantage: Los Angeles
Amsterdam: Love this matchup. These two have a history of not liking each other, dating back to 2004 when they exchanged words before, during and after an exhibition game in Seattle. Yeah, these guys aren’t overly competitive at all. While Kobe seems to bring out the best in Ray and vice versa, the truth is that it will more likely be Derek Fisher chasing Allen through all those screens. I foresee Kobe checking Rondo and focusing his attention on hounding the ball. It remains to be seen whether Kobe can continue to pull off the same late-game heroics he’s been famous for against the league’s best defense. It’s also worth noting that overall, Allen has played much better in the 2010 playoffs than he did when they last won the title in 2008. My favorite part of games in L.A. is when they show clips of “He Got Game” on the big screen and people cheer as Denzel Washington scores on Allen’s character, Jesus Shuttlesworth.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Point Guard: Derek Fisher (Lakers) vs. Rajon Rondo (Celtics)
Middle: Derek Fisher brings his veteran leadership to the floor while blah blah blah blah blah … look, this one’s easy. Rondo is the best contract in the league, and since he’s still playing right now, it’s hard not to consider him the best point guard right now as well. He single-handedly holds the Celtics together by running the offense and controlling the tempo of the game. (Granted, his hands are roughly three times the size of the average human’s.) It’s worth mentioning that he does this all while shutting down his man on defense and creating just three turnovers per 40 minutes. This Fish just might be stuck in a barrel because he doesn’t have a chance of sticking with Rondo.
Amsterdam: With his superb defense, breakneck speed and unique offensive skill set, Rajon Rondo has made himself one of the biggest stories of the 2010 playoffs. He posted one of the single best playoff performances ever in Game 4 against Cleveland (29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists) and is probably a top-10 player in the NBA at this point. The Lakers’ one inarguable weakness over the last several years has been at the point guard position, where they’ve struggled to stop faster guards from scoring. While Derek Fisher is a dependable veteran who remains as professional as they come, he has no business trying to cover Rondo. That responsibility will fall on the Black Mamba himself. With Kobe guarding him, Rondo’s effectiveness in this series could very well be limited, but it will also free another Boston player to step up and take a more active role in scoring the ball.
Middle: I’m going to give this one a tie just because they’re both deep and it’s really about who decides to show up on any given night. I like the Lakers’ depth at the point guard position more, but it shouldn’t be a big factor considering Rondo plays 95 percent of the game anyway. L.A. needs to keep Big Baby Davis off the boards and Sasha Vujacic out of the game entirely and they should be alright. Bonus points to the Lakers for having a Chris Brown lookalike on their bench, though. Maybe Shannon can come in and be an enforcer.
Amsterdam: The benches for both teams are highlighted by enigmas. Lamar Odom is one of the most skilled players in the game and would start for most teams in the league, yet often coasts through long periods of non-productivity. Pretty much all of L.A.’s bench players are able to come in and make the most of their opportunities in the triangle offense. I bring up Sasha Vujacic’s name here only because I haven’t had the chance to make fun of him in this column yet. As for the Celtics, Tony Allen and Nate Robinson bring tremendous energy to a game and are able to turn the tide either way. Glen Davis, though undersized, is a solid rebounder and jump shooter at the backup center position. Rasheed Wallace spreads the floor and is an X-factor every time he steps on the court. You know what you’re going to get from both benches night in and night out, but I’ll give the edge to Boston due to their focus on defense and rebounding.
Coach: Phil Jackson (Lakers) vs. Doc Rivers (Celtics)
Middle: Doc Rivers really has a way of getting through to his players. (He also has a way of giving me a headache with his soundbytes being placed so off-beat in those NBA commercials. It may not be his fault but it still very much bothers me. I guess its not his fault though. I digress…) His message always seems to be heard, but that doesn’t mean his message is better than the Zen Master. Jackson’s track record speaks for itself, and this year I think he’ll add another ring to the collection. One question though: Since he already has ten, will this one be a toe ring? Just a thought…
Amsterdam: If he wins another ring he gives it to his girlfriend (Note: Jackson is dating Jeanie Buss, daughter of his boss.) Anyway, rarely has the potential for distraction loomed so closely over an NBA Finals series due to the two teams’ coaching staffs. Doc Rivers, Boston’s head coach, has gone on record saying he may step down after the season to spend more time with his family. Associate Head Coach Tom Thibodeau (the only assistant coach in the NBA with that title, to my knowledge) has been interviewing for head coaching jobs the past few weeks. Phil Jackson’s contract is over at the end of the season and his boss, Jerry Buss, has remained steadfast that Jackson would have to take a pay cut in order to return to Los Angeles after this year. (Jackson will bank $12 million before taxes for his efforts this season.) While there’s much happening behind the scenes, both teams are so professional that one would be hard-pressed to believe it will affect the players. As great as the Rivers-Thibodeau combination has been the last three years, you can’t bet against a man with 10 championships.
Middle: Lakers in six. They have home court advantage, the best player and coach in the game, and a whole lot of incentive to redeem themselves for their embarrassing Game 6 loss in 2008.
Amsterdam: Celtics in six. Boston has dominated the other three best players in the league (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James & Dwight Howard) on their way to the NBA Finals and I don’t see them stopping now. LeBron scared me a lot more than Kobe does. Their regular season was so bad that I may or may not still fully be in “happy to be here” mode. But the Celtics are not. This group is insanely focused and they know a win in this series would cement their place in history. In Hollywood, its all about capitalizing off the opportunities that winning creates. In Beantown, its about defining a legacy.