Gasol Acquisition has People Talking Lakers-Celtics Again
WALTHAM - The video game NBA Live 08 currently has a television commercial showing a digital version of Celtics forward Paul Pierce dunking on the Los Angeles Lakers. Since both teams have played twice this season, the only way the longtime rivals can play outside of a video game this season is in the NBA Finals. And with the Lakers' surprising recent blockbuster addition of forward Pau Gasol, talk of the Celtics and Lakers meeting up in the Finals is once again a possibility.
"I know they're pumped up [in Los Angeles]," said Pierce, a Los Angeles native. "They want to see that Boston-LA. It could be possible. It would be good for the NBA. They're looking really good, I know that. They're going to be scary out West."
The Celtics own an Eastern Conference and NBA-best 36-8 record. The Lakers (30-16) have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, courtesy of their 103-91 victory in Washington yesterday.
But even with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and budding star Andrew Bynum, the Lakers weren't viewed as a West title contender over the likes of San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix. Bryant even said during last offseason that he would like to be traded.
But the Lakers' title hopes were dramatically upgraded with the addition of Gasol last Friday. Los Angeles acquired the 7-foot, 227-pounder and a 2010 second-round draft choice from Memphis for underachieving forward Kwame Brown (whose lucrative contract expires after this season), rookie guard Javaris Crittenton, guard Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol, and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010.
When asked if he was shocked by the trade, Pierce said: "For what [the Lakers] gave up I was. I thought they'd at least give up a little bit. They didn't give up any of their core [players] and they got a guy that can really help them, an All-Star."
Gasol, an All-Star in 2006, is averaging 18.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game this season, very close to his career averages (18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks). The 2002 Rookie of the Year won a gold medal with Spain at the 2006 FIBA World Championships, where he was tournament MVP.
Once Bynum returns from a left knee injury, the Lakers will have a mammoth front line with Gasol, Bynum (7-0), and Odom (6-10). Gasol, who sat out yesterday with a sore back, could make his Lakers debut Tuesday at New Jersey.
"That's making them contenders when you look at the front line with Odom, Gasol, and Bynum when he gets healthy," Pierce said. "Once they come together, they can be a team that comes out the West."
Celtics forward James Posey, who played with Gasol in Memphis from 2003-05, said he gives the Lakers "another dimension" and thought he would mesh well with Bryant.
"He is a scorer," Posey said. "He has a little midrange game. He can post up real well."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the Gasol trade was a "great" one for the Lakers. He also noted that the Grizzlies, led by ex-Celtics executive Chris Wallace, clearly made the move to clear salary-cap space.
"The Lakers have really improved," said Rivers, whose Celtics practiced yesterday after two days off. "If you look at their lineup with Bynum and Gasol and Odom and Bryant and [Derek] Fisher, that's the biggest starting lineup I've seen in a long time ...
"[Gasol] hasn't won, but he's put up great numbers. Now he has a chance to win. That's good for him."
The Celtics and Lakers have met in the Finals 10 times, including once when the Lakers were in Minneapolis in the first meeting in 1959. Boston won the first eight meetings before Los Angeles won in 1985 and 1987.
When asked about the possibility of a Celtics-Lakers Finals, Rivers said: "I'm all for it. That means we're there ... If we see the Lakers again, I think we'd all be very happy."
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett is still listed as day to day with an abdominal strain that has kept him sidelined for three games. Rivers said there is still no timetable for Garnett's return. It doesn't look good for his return tomorrow in Cleveland considering that he is not expected to practice today.
"[Garnett could return] as early as this weekend or at the All-Star break," Rivers said.
Garnett, who hasn't spoken to the media since Jan. 25, did not practice yesterday. Rivers said Garnett is "clearly improving" and didn't suffer a tear of the abdominal muscle. The 2004 MVP is now swimming, running, and riding an exercise bike and he couldn't do that a week ago.
"I'm not concerned, honestly," Rivers said. "But I do know that injury is not an easy injury. It's slow. He didn't hurt it as bad as other guys have, but he's still healing."
Garnett was acquired July 31 from Minnesota. But it's uncertain whether the Wolves' all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks will play in his first possible return to Minnesota Friday.
"I don't think he cares," Rivers said. "I know he wants to play. But he is not going to do anything stupid."