- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

POINT GUARD: DEREK FISHER vs. RAJON RONDO

The Lakers brought back seasoned veteran Derek Fisher (11.7 ppg, 2.9 apg) in the offseason, and his leadership and the trust Kobe Bryant has in him are among the key factors in Los Angeles‘ turnaround. Second-year man Rondo came into the season as a big question mark, but his teammates praise him for “growing up overnight” and running the Celtics‘ offense with efficiency. But he’s still learning. With three rings from his first stint with the Lakers, Fisher likely will perform better in the bright lights of the finals. Lakers

SHOOTING GUARD: KOBE BRYANT vs. RAY ALLEN

Bryant earned MVP honors after averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists during the regular season. He has kicked it up another notch in the postseason, however, scoring 31.9 points a night. Like Fisher, he has three championship rings and four finals appearances. Allen, who this season averaged 17.4 points and 3.7 assists, is a veteran but has never reached the finals. His scoring has dipped to 14.3 points a game in the playoffs, and he struggled against Cleveland. He rediscovered his touch against Detroit, however. Lakers

SMALL FORWARD: LAMAR ODOM vs. PAUL PIERCE

Odom gives the Lakers great versatility with his length (6-foot-10) and ability to play any position on the floor. He has averaged a double-double (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) throughout the playoffs. Paul Pierce has remained the Celtics’ leading scorer despite the additions of Allen and Kevin Garnett. He has turned in some heroic performances this postseason, including a 41-point effort in Game 7 of the Cleveland series and 27 points in the clinching Game 6 of the Detroit series. Celtics

POWER FORWARD: VLADIMIR RADMANOVIC vs. KEVIN GARNETT

Radmanovic is another big man with perimeter skills and owns a team-best 3-point shooting percentage of .406. He’s not much of a threat on the boards, however, averaging just 3.3 rebounds a game. Kevin Garnett’s addition ignited the Celtics’ dramatic turnaround. He averaged 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds during the regular season and was named defensive player of the year. During the playoffs, he has posted team highs of 21.1 points and 9.8 rebounds. Celtics

CENTER: PAU GASOL vs. KENDRICK PERKINS

The midseason addition of Gasol (18.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg) gave the Lakers a boost despite the season-ending knee injury to Andrew Bynum. Gasol’s an underrated defender and gives Los Angeles another versatile weapon with his ability to both post up and knock down shots from the perimeter. Perkins is big and physical but isn’t called on for offensive production, averaging 6.9 points a game while grabbing 6.1 rebounds during the regular season. Lakers

BENCH: LAKERS vs. CELTICS

The Lakers own a deeper bench with multiple scoring weapons, including Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton, who both have started at points this season. The Celtics’ reserves are less consistent and haven’t been called upon in as many pressure situations as their Lakers counterparts. Lakers

COACHES: PHIL JACKSON vs. DOC RIVERS

Phil Jackson is going for his 10th championship ring, while Doc Rivers is coaching in his first finals. But both coaches have done a great job getting the most out of their teams this season. Rivers had to get three one-time franchise players to click while developing a suspect supporting cast. Jackson had to find a way to get his young players to continue to develop while also blending Gasol into the Lakers’ system midseason. Lakers

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Stars being stars

The Celtics need each member of their “Big Three” to perform at the highest level because they don’t have the bench to match the Lakers. Bryant must continue to attack early and often. Gasol and Odom must continue to produce as well.

2. Experience

This is an entirely new experience for most of the Celtics, and they admit they’re enjoying the moment, but they can’t get too caught up in the glare of the finals hoopla or allow the pressure to derail them. Bryant and Fisher have been here before and will set the tone for their teammates and keep them grounded.

3. Weathering adversity

The Celtics are the best defensive team the Lakers have faced this postseason, so things might not come as easily. Kobe and Co. must remain patient and continue to run the triangle rather than panicking and letting Boston take them out of their game. Conversely, the Lakers are more explosive than any team the Celtics have faced in the playoffs. Boston can’t afford to get off to slow starts. But if it does, it too must remain patient and execute.

PREDICTION

Pierce, Garnett and Allen have fought in vain to get to this point their entire careers and are hungry. But what happens if one of them struggles?

Bryant has three rings but also has the most intense killer instinct in the league and wants to prove he can win a championship as guy. He has demonstrated repeatedly he can take over at any point, and it’s hard to go against the best player in the league, especially when he’s backed by a better bench.

Lakers in 6

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