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NBA Playoffs - A trip back in time

by Jeff Frank, Sports Analyst

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Celtics and Lakers. Haven't heard those two teams mentioned in the same breath since the last time they met in the NBA Finals, way back in 1986-87. In fact, Boston and Los Angeles squared off three times in a four-year span in the mid-'80s with the Lakers coming out on top twice. Still, nothing beats the run both clubs enjoyed in the 1960s, when the Celtics cruised to six titles over Los Angeles.

Nowadays, both squads are back on top as Boston, with a little help from Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett trade, and the Lakers, with help from Memphis in obtaining Pau Gasol, are the regular season champions in their respective conferences.

Boston has earned the right to wear the crown from day one of the season, starting the year 8-0 and topping out at 29-3 in early January. The odds of maintaining that pace throughout the season were astronomical, but to end the year winning 66 of 82 games is an accomplishment no one would have expected back in June. Inasmuch, a ton of credit must be given to Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge.

Many basketball pundits were railing against Ainge on draft day for trading away the fifth pick for an aging shooter in Ray Allen, but not many folks knew at the time what would follow approximately one month later - the seven-for- one deal with Minnesota.

Acquiring Kevin Garnett was the straw that broke the back of the rest of the Eastern Conference, but it wouldn't have happened if it were not for the draft day trade made with Seattle. As it turned out, the presence of Allen in a Celtics uniform was the major reason KG ended up in Beantown.

On the other side, the Lakers have Kobe to thank for being where they are in the standings, but their success could and should be attributed elsewhere. Bryant has been doing what he's done throughout his career, but the one main difference has been in the middle with Andrew Bynum earlier in the year and now through the play of Gasol.

Bynum was mediocre at the beginning of the season, and in fact, the Lakers were 3-5 in his first eight starts with an overall record of 12-8 prior to December 9. But from that point until the January 13 game vs. Memphis when he injured his knee, Los Angeles went 14-3 in his 17 starts. Then came the Gasol trade with the Grizzlies and a new big man was in town. Coincidentally, the Lakers finished 21-5 in the 27 games the Barcelona native started.

Will it be another Boston-Los Angeles matchup for the NBA Championship? Only time will tell, but one thing's for certain, the Celtics will have a much easier road to the title than the number one team in the West.

ODDS TO WIN IT ALL

What is interesting to note, despite winning 25 of its 32 games since the All- Star break, is that Boston's odds of taking the NBA title have actually gone UP, from even money right before the break to 3-2. Why is this the case?

Has the public jumped on other teams? Not really. There hasn't been much change to the odds of the Western Conference champion Lakers from two months ago. They were 3-1 back then, and are 3-1 now. New Orleans was 12-1 on February 12 and closed out the regular season at 11-1. Detroit has gone up from 5-1 to 7-1. In addition, there are fewer teams to wager on since only 16 remain from the original 30, so one has to wonder why Boston's odds have moved up from 1-1 to 3-2.

It is highly unlikely the Celtics will get bounced prior to the Eastern Conference finals, so if one places a wager on Boston to win the whole enchilada, he or she will only have to be heavily concerned about winning two series as opposed to betting on a team from the West, where any squad can get knocked out in any round.

It makes all the sense in the world to strategize one's wagers in order to secure a trip to the finals, and the only way to do that is to place all bets on both Boston and Detroit. Logic dictates that one of those two will reach the championship round since both should hook up in the Eastern Conference finals. The victor in that series then would only have to win one more round to take the title. The other major reason for stocking up on both Boston and Detroit is that one or the other will have home court advantage over the team that comes out of the West.

Think about it. Four of the eight Western Conference clubs are 6-1 or lower to reach the NBA Finals, while only two in the East (Boston and Detroit) are lower than 9-1. The public thinks that since the West appears to be the stronger of the two leagues, the overall winner will most likely come from there, as six of the top eight favorites are from the Western Conference. But in the end, there will only be one squad from each, and the Western representative will have had to fight through two, if not three, brutally physical series to get there.

Finally, Boston finished the season winning 11 of the 14 games played against the top seven Western teams, while Detroit went 9-5. The so-called "smart" money may be on the Lakers and Spurs, but in the end, it will be either the Celtics or Pistons holding the trophy, and 3-2 on the former and 7-1 on the latter is a gift from heaven.

04/18 14:30:58 ET