Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lakers vs. Celtics: Who Ya Got?

Covering a major sporting event is like being in Kentucky during Derby Week. Wherever you go, everyone wants to know who you think will win. It’s something I’ve grown accustomed to, even if I’m not truly comfortable with it.

As I head to Boston to cover this year’s NBA Finals between the Celtics and the Lakers, I’m faced with that familiar situation yet again.

Yo, Eaves. Who you got in the Finals? Lakers or Celtics?

I’ve never been one who likes to make predictions, whether it’s the outcome of sporting events or the length of someone’s marriage. I’ve always been a huge fan of fate. Whatever happens, happens. I figure everyone has a 50/50 shot, right?

Plus, what the hell do I know? Yeah, when it comes to sporting events, I’m more tuned in than the average fan. I get to talk to the coaches and the players from both sides. I have the ability to hit up the research department to uncover stats and/or trends that might give some clue as to the outcome.

But in all seriousness, I don’t know anymore than you do. Simply because no one knows, not even Vegas. It’s a cliché, but in sports, it may be the most après pox: It’s why they play the game(s).

Although it’s not common for me to make public predictions on sporting events, I usually have a feeling one way or the other how a game or a series might go. And just between me and you, I’ve nailed some pretty good ones in the past.

  • Louisville against Duke in the 1986 NCAA National Title Game: partially conceived in state pride, but there was just something about that freshman, Pervis Ellison.

  • The Patriots over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI: New England just didn’t seem scared of the Greatest Show On Turf.

  • Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson: called the exact round.

  • Bernard Hopkins beating Oscar De la Hoya: the Executioner seemed to take the fight personally.

  • Stedman never marrying Oprah: money only goes so far, and it’s a short run when you have enough money of your own.

But as we edged closer and closer to the opening tip of Game One between the Lakers and the Celtics, I was having a hard time finding my trusty feeling. I had looked everywhere for it. Television. Radio. Internet. The back of the refrigerator. No luck. My trusty feeling was ghost.

Luckily, like coming across an old t-shirt or hoop earrings you misplaced three months ago, my trusty feeling found me. Nothing triggered it. It just appeared. Right there in my gut like all good--and bad--feelings.

There was one problem. My head wasn’t quite feeling my gut just yet. You see my head is a bit on the analytical side. It won’t go on blind faith or strong assumptions alone. It likes proof. In fact, it needs proof. Probably just so it will have something to blame in case it’s wrong.

So to make my head and my gut see eye-to-eye, I did what any intelligent, unsure person would do. I asked someone smarter than me.

In an impromptu, unscientific poll, I asked several current and former players, coaches, front-office personnel, and media members who they thought would win the 2008 NBA Finals. Lakers or Celtics?

Again, this move was strictly for my head. My gut has no problems whatsoever standing alone in the face of uncertainty. Call it confidence, ego or cockiness, but my gut believes in itself and nothing else.

The results were overwhelmingly one-sided. The Lakers won in a landslide. In fact, finding Celtics supporters was becoming an issue.

Of the 22 experts who felt comfortable giving a prediction, only five of them thought Boston would claim the title. Three of them were former players who played most, if not all, of their careers in the Eastern Conference. Another was a journalist from New England.

My gut was like, “See, I told you. Lakers all the way, baby!” But my head, being its stubborn self, wasn’t ready to just fall behind these experts. After all, how many times have the experts been wrong?

Plus, my head thought back to one of those rare times it prevailed over my gut when the two did not share the same belief-- the 2004 NBA Finals.

If you remember that year, the Lakers featured not only Shaq and Kobe, but also future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Both of whom had already played in the NBA Finals, only to lose to a Michael Jordan-led Chicago squad.

And the team LA was facing in 2004 should have simply just been satisfied with being there. Detroit emerged from a weak Eastern Conference thanks mostly in part to the mid-season acquisition of Rasheed Wallace, and it’s core players--Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince--were too young to hang with a veteran-laden squad oozing playoff and championship experience.

The Pistons didn’t have a chance. That series was over before it started.

Boy was it ever. Detroit came into Staples Center with not only a no-fear attitude but a strong feeling of disrespect. Youth and playoff inexperience their ass. They had something for the Lakers, and it was a 5-game sweep.

It wasn’t a sweep in the traditional sense because the Lakers actually won Game Two at Staples Center, but it was readily apparent to me at the time that the Pistons were the better team, and they proved it over the next three games.

So it’s that recent historical reference that has my mind tip-toeing the fence between the Lakers and the Celtics. After all, the reason we study the past is to help us make better decisions in the future. At least that’s what all my history teachers said.

Well, regardless, that future is now. And it’s demanding a say. One way or the other. Lakers or Celtics? Boston or LA? Kobe and Co. or the Big Three?

The Celtics swept the Lakers in the regular season, but Pau Gasol didn’t play in any of those two games.

The Lakers have played the best basketball during the playoffs breezing through the more difficult Western Conference, while the Celtics struggled against the likes of Atlanta and Cleveland.

The Lakers have more experience, but the Celtics have more to prove.

On and on it goes. My gut leading the cheer for the Lakers. My head trying to make a strong case for the Celtics.

So with my gut and my head looking more and more like Barack Obama and John McCain on most issues--no common ground in sight--the choice is up to the lone voter in this balloting: Me.

And while I’ve always listened to my head, mostly because I realize the work it puts into coming up with the logical decision in every situation, I tend to trust my gut more. Makes sense, I think, since it’s so close to my heart.

Lakers in 6!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow...just read this. Thought by your words you would have gone with your head then your gut? Curious to hear what your thoughts are now? As ugly of a win it was last night? Who do you think is the more likely twosome to come back in game four? I would have to lean towards Garnett and Pierce...the other two seem to have disappeared. Your thoughts?