The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers haven't played in the NBA Finals since 2010. Could they start another decade with a championship matchup in the Orlando bubble?
The Lakers are the betting favorites to win the Western Conference, and they currently own the second-best record in the league behind the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics enter the league's 22-team restart as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Boston has become a popular pick to make a deep run in the 2020 playoffs, with some experts even predicting a return to the NBA Finals for the C's.
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On the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, Los Angeles Times writer Brad Turner provided some perspective on what L.A. thinks of this year's Celtics team and what it's capable of when the 2019-20 season resumes.
"Man, that Jayson Tatum? I watched the game against the Clippers. He's going up against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and sometimes Pat Beverley. He gave them work," Turner said. "The nickname (LeBron James gave Tatum) was 'The Problem'? He's not going to be a problem, he is a problem. I love watching him play.
"(The Celtics) are just fun, they play with a lot of energy, they seem to play more as a team now. They seem to just play great on offense and on defense. They're sharing the basketball more. ... That's the one team I kinda think could come out of the East. I wonder about them. If I had to pick a surprise team it would be (the Celtics). Well, are they really a surprise? Not really, because they got some talent there."
The Lakers might have the best chance to emerge from what promises to be a highly competitive Western Conference playoffs, but L.A. also will have its share of challenges. Former Celtic and current Lakers guard Avery Bradley opted out of the season restart, Another former C's guard and current Lakers reserve, Rajon Rondo, won't be available to begin the seeding games because of a broken thumb that's expected to sideline him six to eight weeks.
The loss of Bradley is particularly tough. He made a strong impact on both ends of the floor, and in the Lakers' second-to-last game before the season was halted, the veteran guard scored 24 points (including six 3-pointers) in L.A.'s only win over the rival Clippers this year. The Lakers signed J.R. Smith to help fill Bradley's role. Smith could help offensively, but he's nowhere near the high-level defender that Bradley is on the court.
"It was a big loss, to be honest," Turner said. "That weekend (in March) when they played Milwaukee and the Clippers, we saw the true Avery Bradley that you saw in Boston. He was picking up full court and the best thing about him, he was knocking down his shots. He was scoring from the perimeter."
The Celtics and Lakers squaring off in the bubble with the Larry O'Brien Trophy at stake would be an awesome chapter in the league's best rivalry. It's hard to predict what will happen in the playoffs given the unprecedented nature of how the season is being finished, but both Boston and L.A. have the depth, leadership and talent to make it to the Finals.