Playing with MATCHUPS
The tradition has been well-documented, from Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but who’s going to guard whom in the latest version of Lakers vs. Celtics?
The teams start the NBA Finals on Thursday, but there was still a bit of uncertainty, perhaps even coyness, on the Lakers’ behalf as far as matchups.
Derek Fisher will guard second-year point guard Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant will start out on Ray Allen, but the frontcourt is somewhat unsettled.
Lamar Odom said he expected to match up against physical Boston center Kendrick Perkins, who outweighs Odom by 34 pounds.
“I’ll try to meet him as far out on the court as possible,” Odom said. “I’ll have my hands out, be like an offensive lineman coming right off the line and jam him early. I guess I’ll be Orlando Pace out there.”
Pau Gasol probably will start out on Kevin Garnett, and Vladimir Radmanovic probably will draw Paul Pierce, though this is the type of series where defense-minded forward Trevor Ariza could get more playing time, presumably against Pierce.
With two more days of practice before Game 1, the Lakers aren’t being overly committal at this point.
“I mentioned a little bit about it [to players], but not a whole lot,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “We’re going to move people around and find who’s going to guard whom in this series. Those things will change dramatically as we go through the first game and the series.”
On the other hand, the Lakers will be happy just to be in Boston tonight.
They have experienced what other travelers to Boston this week have faced -- a severe shortage of hotel rooms because of a national microbiology conference and college graduations at Harvard and MIT.
The Lakers couldn’t find a large enough block of rooms in downtown Boston to accommodate their players and staff, so they were going to commute from Providence, R.I., about an hour away.
They eventually found enough rooms for tonight in a waterfront Boston hotel and will move Wednesday to a hotel closer to the Celtics’ arena for the rest of the series.
“Rhode Island’s one of the few states in our Union that I haven’t visited yet, but this would not have been the proper time,” Lakers spokesman John Black said.
The Lakers will head to Boston after this morning’s practice and will practice Wednesday at TD Banknorth Garden. Game 1 is Thursday.
Meanwhile, questions about the Celtics’ physicality continued to creep into conversations with players and coaches.
The Lakers were throttled by Boston in both regular-season games, 107-94 in November and 110-91 in December, the latter turning into an embarrassment for the Lakers at home.
Of course, the Lakers didn’t have Gasol for either game. Not to mention that they’ve won 20 of their last 24 games.
“We got a nice little donation since then,” Bryant said, referring to Gasol. “Looking at the film, Lamar commented about how much better he’s [personally] become moving without the basketball. Looking at some of the things that he was doing on film, we’re just a better team.”
Jackson said the only thing useful from those games against the Celtics would be “the tenor of how they play,” code words for the fact that the Celtics are still as physical now as they were back then.
Aggressive as they are, the Celtics still have to figure out how to stop Bryant, who is averaging 31.9 points and 5.8 assists in the playoffs.
The Celtics think they have an answer in Allen.
“Ray is a guy who’s had his battles and knows how to defend Kobe playing in the Western Conference the last few years,” Pierce said. “And [he’s] a guy that can make him work a little bit. . . . [He’s] a guy you have to pay attention to and hopefully that’ll wear [Bryant] down, take away some of the things he does offensively.”
Jackson claimed to feel no sense of rivalry with the Celtics during a lengthy playing career with New York, though he did admit some distaste for the Boston franchise.
“More or less the way the organization treated people was where the dislike was,” he said. “Red Auerbach always had something up his sleeve so you knew you were going to face some shenanigans or something when you went in there. You never could shoot on their court, all kinds of situations in which they wouldn’t conform to the kind of attitude that you have in this day and age, which is more congenial and more cooperative.”
After a pickup game at UCLA early last summer, Bryant and Pierce discussed which one of them would get traded first from their sagging teams.
Neither was traded, and now they meet in the Finals.
“It was funny, both of us kind of being in the same boat,” Bryant said. “The irony of it -- we’re both in the Finals now. It’s cool.”
Jackson, who often chides TV networks for their long timeouts during nationally televised games, hoped ABC would get plenty of viewers for the Finals. TV ratings are expected to easily eclipse last season’s mundane San Antonio sweep of Cleveland.
“Without a doubt, we’d love to have the audiences that we had back in the ‘90s and the ‘80s,” Jackson said. “If we can draw those other people in that are watching ‘Sex and the City’ on Channel 5 and reruns of ‘Friends’ and reruns of ‘Seinfeld,’ so much the better.”
Boston reserve guard Tony Allen, who injured an Achilles’ tendon in a post-practice pickup game during the Eastern Conference finals, appears doubtful for the Finals, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said.
Times staff writer Jonathan Abrams contributed to this report.