The matchups are lined up alongside one another, almost too many to name.
Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum vs. the knee-draining needle, Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Garnett, "Beat L.A." vs. "We want Boston," Phil Jackson vs. his future, and Kobe Bryant vs. Rajon Rondo.
Above all else, of course, it's Lakers vs. Celtics, finally and again, Thursday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
The Lakers badly want redemption while the Celtics want nothing but repetition from two years ago, when a blizzard of green and white championship confetti took place amid an enchanted TD Garden crowd and a dazed set of Lakers.
The 2008 runner-ups did just fine a year later in Orlando, where confetti didn't fall after the Lakers finished off the Magic in five games, but this is different.
It started a few minutes after the clincher in Orlando, when team executive Joey Buss made reference to the Lakers' 15th championship trophy. "We have two more to go to meet the Boston Celtics," he said of Boston's record 17 titles.
The Lakers will try to get within one of Boston by using two pieces they didn't have in 2008, Artest and Bynum, though the latter's contribution is only a guess at this point, given the large bag of ice on his right knee during Wednesday's practice and the revelation that his knee had filled back up with fluid after being drained 48 hours earlier.
Considered a key for his ability to check burly Boston center Kendrick Perkins, Bynum said his knee was "the same as before it got drained."
"We were just kind of hoping it wouldn't [swell] so it would feel better," he said. "But I'm used to playing with the swelling in there. So, I'm just going to go out there and play."
Bynum took part in limited drills but no full-court work Wednesday. He has been fighting through torn cartilage in the knee since the end of the first round.
Bryant didn't practice at all, the norm since his right knee was drained in April, but all he has done since then was enter fantasy-basketball nirvana, including averages of 33.7 points, 8.3 assists and 7.2 rebounds in the Western Conference finals against Phoenix.
"I don't think there's any doubt that this is one of the great playoff performances," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "This year particularly stands out simply due to a lot of speculation at the end of the season and how he's really recovered and led this basketball team during this playoff. This is an outstanding performance up to this point by Kobe Bryant."
The Lakers are reluctant to fully reveal defensive assignments, but they will put Bryant at least part of the time on Boston point guard Rondo, who is five inches shorter and 34 pounds lighter.
"He's as quick as lightning," Bryant said, "so we'll see" how it goes.
The most important matchup in Jackson's mind will be the finesse Gasol against the physical Garnett, "the force of their defense," Jackson said.
Gasol didn't fare so well two years ago against the Celtics, when he was pushed around by Perkins and Garnett, bottoming out with 11 points and five turnovers in the Celtics' 131-92 victory in the clinching Game 6.
Gasol, an All-Star twice since that day, talked a robust game Wednesday.
"Obviously there's feelings involved and there's memories that are in there, which should help us to push through and to battle even harder," he said. "I think one of the main things is just to be in attack mode, understanding their defense, how they help each other and how they don't allow easy stuff or points in the paint and they challenge you."
Another one-on-one to watch will be Artest and Pierce, who have built up a history that includes non-apologetic serenades and sarcastic goodbye waves.
A few years back, while with Indiana, Artest pulled down Pierce's shorts as the two jostled in the post. Last season, when Artest was with Houston, Pierce began immediately waving goodbye after Artest fouled out while guarding him.
So far, there are merely words of caution between the two.
"I'm playing against one of the top defenders in the game, so he's going to make things a little bit more harder, a little bit more physical," Pierce said. "That's what Ron Artest is, a guy who tries to get in your head throughout the game — grab you, pull you, scratch you. My thing is just not getting caught up where I'm getting technical fouls or getting into shoving matches."
It'll be the Lakers and Celtics yet again, the 12th time they have met in the NBA Finals, not that Bryant was willing to go too far in the past. His attention is on the next week or two.
"The happy times of Magic [Johnson] winning against Boston or the sad times of Jerry West losing to them has no impact on me whatsoever," he said. "I have a series to play. I have a series to win. I'll just focus on that."
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.
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