May 5, 2011, 2:51 PM EDT
Right now, you don’t want to be the Celtics or the Lakers.
History tells us the teams that have won the last three NBA titles are in a lot of trouble. Watching the games and how they’ve been outplayed makes it feel worse. Heading into a playoffs filled with flawed teams — there was no juggernaut — it seemed logical to guess that the two most veteran, battle tested teams would be the ones that figured out the answers first.
Nope. Both have been thoroughly outplayed in the first two games of the second round and both are down 0-2. Both are facing long odds to even get to the conference finals because in both cases the team they are playing is peaking at the right time.
But which one is more likely to find a way out of their hole?
It’s hard to see how Boston could pull it off under any circumstances.
What Miami has done is rip apart Boston’s strength — it’s defense. Miami has been the more physical team (to go with their superior athleticism). Miami has used great ball movement to the weak side, players cutting and diving without the ball, dibble penetration and transition to rip apart the defense that made the Celtics the Celtics. It’s not a lack of effort for Celtics, it’s an inability to stop what the better athletes of the Heat are doing. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been able to get theirs and the Heat have drained the three. Boston has no easy answers.
Going back to the Garden and having a long layoff for a veteran team may help, and maybe Rajon Rondo can finally start to dominate Mike Bibby and the rather sad Heat point guard rotation like he should. Maybe at home the Celtics bench will feel more comfortable and start to outplay the Heat bench.
But the fact is the two best players in this series are Wade and LeBron, and they are finally playing off each other in a way the league feared they would figure out someday. Even if the Celtics get Rondo going and get better bench play, if Wade and LeBron keep going like they are it’s hard to envision the Celtics taking four of five.
As for the Lakers, you can kind of see how they get it done. You just can’t see them doing it.
Dallas deserves credit — they have found what the Lakers are not doing well and pounded away on it. When midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2 they saw how poorly the Lakers were defending the high pick-and-roll, they ran J.J. Barea off it mercilessly. Dallas has fed Dirk Nowtizki because the Lakers have not been able to defend him. The Mavs bench has destroyed the Lakers bench.
But the dynamic here is different than the Heat/Celtics series — when Los Angeles makes a mistake Dallas makes them pay. Credit Dallas for doing that, but it still feels like the Lakers are their own worst enemy, that there is a potential they are not reaching because of themselves, not because Dallas is holding them back. The Lakers last season were able to frustrate Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo on the way to a title and now Barea is ripping them apart? That’s not Dallas, that’s Los Angeles.
So in a sense, you can see how the Lakers could flip a switch and still beat Dallas — Pau Gasol could find his legs and return to being the most skilled big man in the game, the Lakers threes can start to fall, they could decide to start feeding Andrew Bynum, they could try harder on defense. Kobe could go nova.
But what gives you any belief that these Lakers even know where that switch is, let alone know how to flip it.
All season long the Lakers have battled fits of boredom and fatigue, never really honing their execution. They got by on superior talent. Now that lack of execution is costing them because they are up against a talented team that is executing. All the credit in the world to Dallas, who is uniquely qualified to exploit it the Lakers mistakes.
Maybe one of these teams can come back from 0-2. The Lakers stand some chance. But really, it’s hard to see how either of them last past Game 6.
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