Bill Belichick would have a field day with this.
Maybe the Patriots coach will push the "no respect" card to Celtics players as a means of motivation from his courtside seat tonight at the Garden, where the Celtics and Lakers will finally tip off in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Most in the national media have glommed on to the Lakers machine in predicting the outcome of this series, lauding Kobe Bryant as the difference-maker, Phil Jackson's Zen more powerful than Red Auerbach's ghost. The most talked-about prognosis this week came from ESPN, where nine out of 10 experts picked the Lakers.
They're not alone. Across the country, the bulk of non-partisans are going with LA.
- Bob Ryan, Boston Globe: Celtics in 6. "Whichever team imposes its will most often on the other in this battle between an up-tempo team that lives in the 100s and a defensive-minded team that is as comfortable in the 80s as it is in triple figures will win this series. Go with the latter."
- Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe: Celtics in 7. "National folk get blinded by the light when they see Kobe and the Lakers. Celtics "figured it out" in the Detroit series and should benefit from matchups and East Coast rollerball style. Wish Red had lived to see it."
- Bill Walton: Celtics.
- Charles Barkley: Lakers. "Take it from your favorite 'fat boy' TNT analyst: It is the Lakers who look really phat right now."
- ESPN.com: Nine out of 10 pick the Lakers.
- David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Lakers in 6. "Boston has proven to me that it is a dynamic and special team. The Celtics have improved as the playoffs evolved and will be tougher for the Lakers to beat than any of the three teams L.A. defeated out west to get to the Finals. The Celtics' will to win is formidable, and their team chemistry is superb. The Lakers appear to be better, on paper, but only slightly so. Winning a game in Boston is no tougher for L.A. than winning in Utah or San Antonio, which the Lakers did. But winning a game in L.A. would require Boston to play just a bit better than it has in previous road games. So I give the smallest of edges to the Lakers."
- Mike Moreau, Scouts Inc.: Celtics in 6. "After slogging through the Eastern Conference playoffs in less-than-dominant fashion, the fact remains that the team with the best regular-season record is in the Finals with home-court advantage. Although the Lakers are a more formidable opponent than anyone in the East, the Celtics will be the toughest opponent the Lakers have faced. Boston has grown, matured and overcome adversity and doubts on their road to the Finals. They've won close games and passed the final test by breaking through on the road with a close-out win against the Pistons. The NBA's best defense will keep the Celtics in every game, and their strength in numbers will help them survive the best closer in the league."
- CBS Sports: Three out of five pick the Lakers.
- Stan McNeal, Sporting News: Lakers in 5. "Forget the Celtics' home-court advantage. Forget the Lakers' young and dynamic bench. Forget all the Finals experience of Bryant, Derek Fisher and Jackson. Forget the Celtics' league-leading defense. When all the issues have been hashed out, the one that matters most is this: Team with the best player wins."
- Kenny Smith, Yahoo! Sports: Lakers in 6. "KG is MVP of the past. Kobe is the present."
- Marc Berman, New York Post: Lakers in 6. "Too much Finals experience, too much Kobe, too much Zen."
- Steve Dilbeck, Los Angeles Daily News: Celtics. "It's not that I expect the Lakers to be blown out or swept, though it could happen. It's just that right now, at this moment in time, the Celtics seem clearly better. I hope to be proven wrong, but doubt it."
- EA Sports NBA Live: Lakers in 5.
- Kurt Kragthorpe, Salt Lake City Tribune: Lakers. "Determining who would be the most deserving winner of the 2008 NBA Finals is tricky. Maybe 'least undeserving' is a better measurement, considering how so many of the key figures in this series recently joined their teams or wanted to be traded from them, in the case of the Lakers' Kobe Bryant. Even the executives being celebrated for assembling the rosters could more accurately be said to have had some of the key figures fall out of the sky right to them."
- David Boyce, Kansas City Star: Lakers in 6. "All season Garnett, Pierce and Allen have played with a strong desire to win their first NBA title. It has led Boston to the best record in the regular season and it has gotten them to the NBA finals for the first time in their careers. But they will find out that the NBA finals is Kobe Bryant's world."
- Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post: Lakers in 7.
- Mike Monroe, San Antonio Express-News: Celtics in 7. "If Pierce can force the Lakers to change their defensive matchups, and especially if he can force Bryant into an energy-sapping defensive matchup, the Celtics' chances to win the series will be optimized."
- Ken Berger, Newsday: Lakers in 6. "The Celtics are doomed if they do and doomed if they don't. If they commit multiple defenders to sealing off Bryant's path to the basket - as they did pretty successfully against LeBron James - then Bryant will find Gasol or Odom slashing for easy baskets or Fisher, Radmanovic or Vujacic for open jumpers. Pierce is the key to the entire series for Boston. If he can command attention and take pressure off Garnett, the Celtics can make it a long series. But they've played too many long series already, allowing themselves to be pushed to seven games by the Hawks and Cavs. Fatigue - and a dose of L.A. revenge - will come back to haunt them."
- Charley Rosen, Foxsports.com: Lakers in 7. "Barring debilitating injuries to important players, and/or unusually inept officiating, this will be a highly competitive go-round - with the Lakers prevailing in a triple-overtime seventh game."
- Our pick: Celtics in 7. Watching the high-flying Lakers on this playoff run in the West vs. the lingering concerns about the Celtics' scoring attack (begins with Ray, ends with Allen) should spark some amount of fear in every Bostonian. But the Celtics' dominance vs. the West in the regular season (22-5) can't be discounted, nor can their suffocating defense. Los Angeles' flashy offensive attack has it heavily regarded as the favorite by the national media, but…everybody now, "Defense wins…"