1. Bynum, Lakers Paying The Celtics Back
LOS ANGELES -- Whenever Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum thinks about the 2008 NBA Finals he gets angry. Angry at the thought of the Boston Celtics muscling their way around the paint, angry at the sight of the layup drill throughout Game 6 and angry at the difference he would have made if he were on the court. He will always think he would have been the difference-maker in that series if he could have played.
"We're pissed off that they took the opportunity for us to have another championship," said Bynum, who missed the Finals two years ago with an injured left kneecap. "They robbed us of that, so we just want to return the favor."
Bynum isn't alone in feeling robbed of a championship. After watching film of Thursday's Game 1, Celtics coach Doc Rivers compared this series to a heavyweight title fight and reminded his team that they are still champions and should play that way.
"Doc talked about Joe Frazier and how [Muhammad] Ali lost the belt and he felt that he was still the champion. That's how we feel," said Celtics forward Glen Davis. "Kevin [Garnett] was hurt [last season] and we feel if Kevin wasn't hurt we felt we would've been champions. But you still got to go out there and beat the champions. We have to go out there and win even though we feel like we should be the champions because they're the defending champions."
Neither team can do anything to change the past but with both Bynum and Garnett on the floor now, they can go a long way in reaffirming their cases.
"I know Bynum has a chip on his shoulder because when we won it he wasn't playing and that's the mentality they have," Davis said. "It should be like that. We have to match that intensity."
That the Celtics are now talking about matching the Lakers' toughness and intensity two years after outshining the Lakers in both categories in the Finals has as much to do with the presence of Bynum's 7-foot, 285-pound frame in the paint and the continued improvement of Pau Gasol during the postseason as anything else.
On Thursday the Lakers outscored the Celtics 48-30 in the paint, outrebounded them 42-31 and had a 16-0 advantage in second-chance points. None of those stat lines would have been possible two years ago with Vladimir Radmanovic on the floor for the Lakers instead of Bynum.
Bynum is used to answering questions about his knee at this point. The cerebral 7-footer, who goes through a different book every other week, has been playing with torn cartilage in his right knee for more than a month and says if he's being honest the answer to how he's feeling is never good but some days are better than others.
"It's kind of like the stock market," he said. "It's up and down. Sometimes I have a lot of swelling; sometimes it's not too much. It's real up and down. It fluctuates all the time."
If Bynum's health is like the stock market then his performance in Game 1 would certainly be considered "bullish" after he finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes. It certainly wasn't the most eye-catching stat line but the fact he played nearly 30 minutes and outplayed Kendrick Perkins, who finished with 8 points and 3 rebounds in 24 minutes, is more than the Lakers could have hoped for.
Of course, whenever you're dealing with something as unpredictable as the stock market or Bynum's ever-changing health, the fear is having everything come crashing down the next day. Bynum, however, doesn't expect to start trending downward anytime soon.
"I feel fine," Bynum said. "I'll be fine. That's what's being asked of me and that's what I have to do. I have to go out there and play hard."
Against the Celtics, Bynum isn't being asked to keep up with fast-paced teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Phoenix Suns, he's simply being asked to keep up with Perkins, a true center who isn't about to make him run up and down the floor the same way Channing Frye or Amare Stoudemire would.
"That's easier on the knee," Bynum said. "It's a more conventional lineup. So I'm going to be out there the majority of the game. [Perkins] is going to try and keep a body on me. It makes the game much better for me."
Perkins said Bynum might not be as happy to be facing him after Game 2 following the team's meeting with Rivers, where he and his teammates heard an earful from their coach about their shortcomings.
"Doc said we came out too casual," Perkins said. "We're here to win games. This is not a vacation. He said we played soft last game. We're going to be a more physical team coming into Sunday's game. I watched the game four times and it was hard but we have to be ready. Andrew doesn't do a good job of running back on the defensive end, he runs on the offensive end but he doesn't run on the defensive end. But if we can't get stops we can't run so that has to change."
Bynum said he'll be ready for whatever Perkins and the Celtics have in store for him on Sunday and isn't worried about facing a more physical Celtics team.
"It's going to be chippy and that's OK," Bynum said. "We need that. We need that kind of mentality. A lot has been made about them bullying us. I don't think anyone on our team is worried about that. We'll be ready for them."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
2. NBA Finals: Familiar Foes
LOS ANGELES -- One aspect of the Lakers-Celtics Finals that is a bit troubling for the league is that it's a jarring reminder of a disturbing trend line: The concentration of Finals appearances and championships among just a few teams.
The Lakers and Celtics have combined to win 13 of the last 30 rings; this year will make it 14 of 31. Throw in six from the Bulls, four from San Antonio and three from Detroit, and 27 of the past 31 titles have been won by just five teams.
The other 25 clubs have combined for only four titles since 1980, and a dozen of those teams (the Kings, Grizzlies, Clippers, Warriors, Bobcats, Hawks, Bucks, Raptors, Wizards, Hornets, Timberwolves and Nuggets) haven't been to the Finals once in that span. Seven other clubs -- Miami, Portland, Seattle/Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Dallas, Indiana and Cleveland -- made it just once.
So that's 19 of the 30 teams that either have never or virtually have never been to the promised land, while five teams have mostly hoarded the glory.
And thus my question to David Stern Thursday: Is this bad for the league?
"You give credit where credit is due," said Stern, pointing to the management of the Lakers under owner Jerry Buss and the Celtics, in the more distant past, under Red Auerbach. "That's what our sport is about. Hats off to the Lakers and Celtics for being persistent and consistent winners in the league."
"I think it actually acts as an incentive," he said. "What do you do? You build. And then you see these teams and you realize it's not about one player changing teams, it's about creating a team, constructing a team, having the right coach, having a team work together and having players prepared to sacrifice. And I think that's what we all saw in the '80s when the [Lakers and Celtics] were playing each other.
"And now here we are again and they're not here because of the green and the purple and gold. They're here because of the teams that have been constructed, the coaches that they have and the systems that they have."
Fair enough, we don't want to penalize good management or set the bar to the lowest common denominator. That said, the league still stratifies too easily into haves and have-nots, and I think it's one of the things that makes the league such a tough sell in secondary markets. L.A. can't be in the Finals every year unless the other 14 Western Conference teams aren't; in fact the Lakers and Spurs have won the West 11 of the past 12 seasons.
There may not be an easy solution for it; not in a sport like basketball, where so much hinges on having one or two good players and the complications of managing the salary cap separate well-managed teams from bad ones like Moses parting the Red Sea. Nonetheless, it's a topic that will only gain increasing scrutiny with each successive year that we get two of the league's "haves" in the Finals.
In the short term, of course, Lakers-Celtics is great for ratings -- far greater than, say, what a Minnesota-Charlotte series would produce. But for the health of the league, it says here it would probably be better to rotate through the usual suspects a bit less, and replace them with a few more June visits to the NBA's other 20 outposts.
John Hollinger is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
3. Cavaliers' Ferry Resigns As GM
ESPN The Magazine
It always promised to be a circus -- with billboards around the country proclaiming their undying love for LeBron, with politicians putting aside weightier matters to sell their city as the place to be, with teams recruiting The King with enough pizzazz to make a 17-year-old's trip to Chapel Hill seem as boring as a nap.
So I guess we shouldn't be surprised by all the rumor-mongering, the partial housecleaning in Cleveland, the TV reruns fixed up and finagled to make them appear current, or the fact that folks are deciphering LeBron's every syllabic utterance with the intensity of a Bible verse.
As eventful as Friday was -- Cavs GM Danny Ferry resigned; a report basically accused LeBron of being the ubernarcissist -- this "Summer of LeBron" will get only wackier and wackier.
First, rabid followers of LeBron's Great Adventure woke up to read that he and Nike were planning to create and sell a special shoe for each leg of his Free Agent Tour, complete with the date of his visits to New York, New Jersey and Chicago imprinted on the kicks.
Everyone who read about that supposed plan must have grimaced and screamed, "Yuck!'' Talk about a PR blunder. That would've been the Titanic, the Michael Jordan, the Rolls-Royce of PR blunders.
But here's the thing: It was wrong, very wrong.
To read the entire column, click here
4. Secret Of Bryant's Success
PHOENIX -- Kobe Bryant is ready to come clean. As the Los Angeles Lakers prepared to defend their NBA championship against the Boston Celtics, their gifted leader confessed he has plagiarized almost everything in his patented basketball portfolio.
"I seriously have stolen all my moves from the greatest players," he admitted.
Watch a highlight reel of Kobe and you will witness Hall of Fame hints of influence sprinkled throughout: the way he freezes defenders and creates space in the mold of Oscar Robertson, or the explosive pull-up jumper he copied from Jerry West, or the post-up shake-and-go he took from Hakeem Olajuwon.
Bryant incorporated the skills of these legends into his game by breaking down their finest moments on film.
To read the entire column, click here
5. Hoops World Reacts To Wooden
ESPN Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES -- There was a game played here Thursday night, but there was a sadness in the building.
Whether they had heard before the Lakers and Celtics opened the NBA Finals at Staples Center that legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden was in the hospital, gravely ill, those who had known him, loved him or simply respected him from afar reacted to the news with great emotion: sadness at the news, and gratitude and appreciation for all that Wooden meant to them.
"He's a legend and an icon. He's one of the world's treasures, but especially in L.A.," Magic Johnson said.
"I sat down with him many a time. He was a guy who gave me a lot of advice when I first got here. We used to speak at different [basketball] camps together. It was amazing to hear his knowledge. He used to tell me, 'When you work with young people, never penalize them for what they are or what they aren't -- you work with them, and love them.' When he talked, I took notes, many notes."
To read the entire column, click here
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Giving Back
8. Garnett Out Of Rhythm
LOS ANGELES -- It was a missed chip shot with the score 91-78 and 5:34 left in the game that told the story. He wasn't himself. This wasn't him. The miss wasn't a choke. He just never had control of the ball.
And there's the story: He never had control. To know Kevin Garnett as a ballplayer is to know that in situations such as an NBA Finals, he -- more than anyone on the Celtics' squad -- is the one who will seize control. Of the game. Of the entire series.
While other players may leave their fingerprints on the series, we could be assured that KG was going to have his DNA all over it. But after a this-was-so-not-KG performance in Game 1, the question lingers: Will the man who is responsible for the Celtics' blood flow be himself before the series is over?
"It's like he turned into Charles Smith," said my editor as he watched KG miss bunnies and other easy shots he normally makes.
To read the entire column, click here
9. Celtics Need To Get Tougher
A little more than a month ago, the Celtics were feeling the heat of a May beatdown at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This Game 1 defeat only hardened the opinion felt by most: The Celtics have no chance to win this series. An opponent that has arguably the greatest player in the NBA putting up an unstoppable 30 points per game. Sound familiar?
Now the Celtics find themselves in the same 0-1 hole against the other best player in the NBA. The only problem for the Celtics resides in the fact that the Lakers also have the best power forward in the game, a formidable number two they did not experience against the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals due to a huge performance from LeBron James (35 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), a quintessential sidekick-like performance from Mo Williams (20 points on 8-of-14 shooting) and energetic play from J.J. Hickson (11 points). The Celtics faced a similar three-headed monster on Thursday night in the form of Kobe Bryant (30 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Pau Gasol (23 points, 14 rebounds) and Ron Artest (15 points).
Naturally, the Celtics suffered the same fate in both games, but it was how they bounced back from that loss to Cleveland that foretold the rest of the series. In response to their abysmal effort in Game 1 the Celtics came out and completely shut down LeBron's number two, limiting Williams to just four points on 1-of-9 shooting. They limited James' effort by making him an exclusive jump-shooter and eliminated Cleveland's second-chance opportunities by outrebounding the Cavaliers 43-32.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Lakers have trump cards for both of those strategies in Bryant's prolific outside shooting and Gasol's gargantuan length. These alone might make the Cleveland series a poor predictor of what is to come on Sunday night. However, what these games lack in strategic adjustments, they mirror exactly in emotional stakes. The Celtics know the adversity they face. They know how it feels to be down and counted out. They know how it feels to rebound from an emotional loss.
The Celtics need to get back to basics if they expect to have any shot at holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of this series. More importantly, they need to get back to playing Celtics basketball: not allowing second-chance points by gang-rebounding on the defensive end, playing tough man-to-man defense, closing off driving lanes by clogging the painted area, and executing on the offensive end.
There is no need to change the game plan. There just needs to be the customary "gut check" after a loss as abysmal as Game 1. Right now, there is no panic in Beantown, just a sense of urgency that has to be mirrored on the court Sunday night.
To read more from Jackson, click here