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NBA Finals - A long wait until game one

by Jeff Frank, Sports Analyst

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Los Angeles Lakers ended their series with San Antonio last Thursday, and Boston wrapped up the Eastern Conference Finals the following evening, yet game one of the NBA Finals is being held hostage by the powers that be until Thursday?

The last time the Lakers and Celtics hooked up for the NBA Championship was over 20 years ago, and now the public will have to wait even longer, almost a full week after the match up between LA and Boston was finalized.

This isn't anything new, as Cleveland and San Antonio combined for the same 13 days off between the conference and NBA championships last year. Between 2004 and 2006, the two finalists only sat for a combined 11 days, so the trend is moving in a very unpopular direction.

More importantly for the sport itself, the television ratings for the NBA Finals the last eight years have dropped like an anchor, failing to reach double digits the last three seasons. Not only that, last year's Spurs-Cavs series produced record lows in both ratings and shares at 6.2/11. The year before generated an 8.2/15 mark, when the Heat took down the Mavericks.

Many reasons can be given as to why some series fail to attract the average television viewer, but there are a couple that stick out like a sore thumb. Whenever the Lakers have been involved (four times this decade), the average rating was a healthy 11.4. On the other hand, the three seasons the general public has witnessed the Spurs in the finals, the average mark stood at 7.0.

What, if anything, can those numbers be attributed to? Are the Lakers really that much of a draw, and if so, can one assume that this year's battle against Boston will produce a number above 10? Or does LA's presence mean nothing, since the bulk of its dominant years came the first three seasons of the decade when sporting event numbers were much higher across the board?

My guess is since this will be the first match up between the Lakers-Celtics since 1987, the ratings will not only improve dramatically from a year ago, but will garner the highest number since 2002, when Los Angeles dusted off the Nets in four straight earning a 10.2 mark

LOS ANGELES VS. BOSTON

No two teams have squared off on as many occasions in the NBA Finals as the Lakers and Celtics. They have faced each other 10 times, the first coming back in 1958-59 when Boston knocked off the Minneapolis Lakers in four straight. The Celtics won the next six series - all taking place in the 1960s. The final three matchups occurred in the '80s, with Los Angeles pulling out a pair of championships during the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era. Incidentally, the last battle between these two teams, won by the Lakers in 1987, produced the highest TV ratings ever for an NBA Finals not including Michael Jordan.

Most experts feel Los Angeles has the edge, especially with the 2-3-2 format, in the championship round. The Lakers were the only team in the West to win four road games this postseason, and since they failed to lose a contest at home, all they would have to do to win this series in five is to split the first pair in Boston.

After being favored to take the title for much of the year, Boston now finds itself as the underdog heading into the championship round. The Celtics, who were the even money favorites to win the whole enchilada at the All-Star break, had jumped up to 3-2 at the end of the regular season. Their odds have risen once again to 8-5 against Los Angeles, but for those still confident in their chances, it's not too much to ask risking $100 to win $165. On the other hand, those placing bets on the Lakers have to shell out $190 to win $100.

For those so intent on betting Los Angeles, the wiser wager is to hope for a victory in five games at the juicy odds of 3-1, rather than risking $190 to win $100 for a series win in four, six or seven.

Along the same lines, I would advise those in favor of Boston to bet a few dollars on Doc Rivers' club to win in four games at odds of 20-1 and five games at 11-1, but wager even more at 6-1 for a six-game series and 17-4 for a Celtics victory in seven. Doing this makes much more sense than settling for the 8-5 odds as a whole.

BOSTON OWNED LA DURING THE YEAR

The Celtics grabbed both regular season head-to-head meetings, by scores of 107-94 and 110-91. The Lakers had won seven of the previous nine, but Boston was certainly not the same team earlier in the decade.

It's true that Pau Gasol was still in Memphis the two times Boston and Los Angeles met this year, but it wasn't the Celtics' fault he wasn't around. Additionally, the second time these two clubs squared off, LA was in the midst of a 10-2 stretch and was favored at home over Boston in late December.

The Celtics easily walked off the court with the 19-point victory, playing without Rajon Rondo. Los Angeles shot just 35% from the field that evening, dropping its two-game total to a wretched 39%. One interesting stat that bears watching during this series is Boston's propensity to get to the foul line. In the two contests, the Celtics shot 67 foul shots to the Lakers' 50. Boston also out-rebounded Los Angeles in both games.

This was the series the fans and media were crying for earlier this spring and now that it's here, the anticipation is building. It's a shame everyone has had to wait almost a full week to get the ball rolling, but these games should be something special and will certainly help make up for "lost time".

06/02 13:33:02 ET