NBA Finals Preview: Why Orlando Shouldn't See Itself As "The Underdog"
Granted, it would be sure to grace television sets across the globe and pan out to be quite an exciting series with the two best players to ever set foot on a basketball court going head-to-head.
However, the alternative is actually a much better matchup. It's better because of the fact that the Orlando Magic and the LA Lakers are the two best teams in the NBA this year, without the Boston Celtics having a healthy Kevin Garnett.
The Lakers (65-17) are fueled by three-time NBA champion, Kobe Bryant. LA has a well-balanced attack, beginning with point guard Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, etc.
The Lakers offense, which has averaged 102.9 points per game in the playoffs, is just as efficient as its' defense, which has allowed only 96.3 points per game in the playoffs.
The Magic (59-23) are led by Defensive player of the year, Dwight Howard. Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Mickael Pietrus are big contributors for Orlando.
The Eastern Conference champs have only allowed 93.7 points per game this post-season and are undefeated when they allow fewer than 90 points. The Magic Offense is fueled by the three-point shot. Orlando has made .367 percent of its' three-pointers in the playoffs and average 98.5 points per game.
This being LA's 30th Finals appearance, compared to just the second for Orlando, history is undoubtedly on the Lakers' side.
However, the Magic are no "Underdog" besides the history factor.
Here are the likely starting matchups for both teams:
Orlando Los Angeles
PG Rafer Alston vs. Derek Fisher
SG Courtney Lee vs. Kobe Bryant
SF Hedo Turkoglu vs. Trevor Ariza
PF Rashard Lewis vs. Pau Gasol
C Dwight Howard vs. Andrew Bynum
Mickael Pietrus Lamar Odom
Anthony Johnson Jordan Farmar
Marcin Gortat vs. Luke Walton
Tony Battie Sasha Vujacic
JJ Redick Shannon Brown
The point guards for both teams are closely related. Rafer Alston and Derek Fisher are both known for their ability to get open for the three-point shot, and neither of them have much of an inside game. However, Alston and Fisher are capable of driving the lane and either finishing, or dropping a pass to an inside presence.
Alston, though, leads Fisher in points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game in the playoffs. There was two head-to-head matchups between Alston and Fisher this season. Alston, when playing for the Houston Rockets, averaged nine points and Fisher averaged seven.
"Skip to my Lou" has played substantially well in the spotlight thus far in the playoffs and will take his stellar play into the NBA Finals.
The shooting guard position is one that is both obvious, and can be intriguing to watch throughout the series. Kobe Bryant, who is averaging more than 29 points per game in the playoffs, will look to be very aggressive against rookie Courtney Lee. In 25 career NBA Finals games, Bryant has averaged 23 points per game, so he will look to better his statistics and make a fool of Lee.
Lee, however, has been a leader in Orlando's underrated defense. Countless times he has been asked to guard the best players in the league. He has averaged one steal per game in the playoffs and uses his body to get up into offensive threats. It will be interesting to see the development of this matchup.
Advantage: Los Angeles
The small forward position is one that might surprise many viewers. Hedo Turkoglu is a proven scorer and likes to handle the ball as much as he can, but Trevor Ariza is a very underrated defender and will look to aggravate Turkoglu. Ariza, who is averaging over one steal per game in the playoffs, has been a defensive dynamo thus far in the playoffs.
However, Turkoglu has been guarded by worthy defenders thus far in the post-season, and has responded averaging 15.2 points per game. Ariza, though, can also score, averaging 11.4 points per game. Both players will have work to do on the defensive end.
The power forward position is where Orlando will look to expose their secret weapon, Rashard Lewis. Pau Gasol is an old-fashioned power forward. He cannot check Rashard Lewis consistently.
This secret matchup weapon was exploited in the Eastern Conference Finals when Anderson Varejao, a much more versatile athlete than Gasol, was asked to guard Lewis.
Lewis, who has averaged 19.4 points per game this post-season, will spread the floor, find open areas beyond the arc, or blown past Gasol to draw a foul, or score inside. However, Pau Gasol, who is averaging 18.2 points per game this post-season, is a proven post presence, therefore, Lewis will need to be a defensive threat inside.
Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard are long-time friends due to playing AAU ball together, but their will be friendships laid on the line for an NBA championship. Dwight Howard is an unstoppable threat, from his pure strength, to his ability to make the jump hook with either hand, and his defensive domination. Howard is a proven big game scorer and will make Bynum work for everything.
However, Bynum is a very underrated player. He has more of rounded offensive game than Howard has. He will look to exploit Howard's ball-handling weaknesses when they go head-to-head in the post, that is, if LA chooses not to double-team.
The Bench players have come up exceptionally big during each team's respectable playoff runs.
For Orlando, Mickael Pietrus has been a one-man show off the bench for the Magic, averaging 10.5 points per game in the playoffs. Pietrus has provided a spark of energy on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Pietrus will also be be hung on Kobe Bryant when assigned.
"The only thing I can do is try to minimize his touches in the fourth quarter," Pietrus told the Orlando Sentinel. "He's a tremendous player and those guys you can not stop them. So maybe I can say, 'Hey, stop, Kobe! Yo! Stop!' Maybe that's the only way I can stop him. 'Stop for a minute!' "
For Los Angeles, Lamar Odom fuels the Lakers' balanced attack off the bench. Odom, who is averaging 12 points and over nine rebounds per game in the playoffs, has played superb in the playoffs. Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton will play vital minutes for the Lakers, also, to round out the well-balanced second team.
Advantage: Los Angeles
This matchup could possibly be a downer for T.V. ratings, however, to any basketball fan, this series will undoubtedly be exciting.
Orlando won the season series with LA, 2-0. The season series featured stellar play from Orlando's Jameer Nelson, superb Magic three-point shooting, MVP-like play from LA's Kobe Bryant, and a war of coaching strategies from two of the top coaches in the NBA.
The Magic's Jameer Nelson, who averaged 27.5 points per game against LA this season, will not be 100% by any means in the Finals, even if he does play.
However, Rafer Alston has has played exceptionally well in Nelson's absence, especially in the playoffs.
Here are the keys to victory for both teams:
For Los Angeles
Don't turn the ball over
Los Angeles has averaged over 13 turnovers per game in the regular and post-season, which is too much against a team like the Magic. Orlando, with their athletic wings, will be able to burn the Lakers in the open court.
LA needs to keep the momentum on their side by not giving up fast break points to the Magic, which will fuel Orlando and allow them to gain momentum.
Work the ball inside
Without physically being able to limit Dwight Howard, how else can you stop him? Pound the ball inside to make him pick up early fouls. Howard has been crippled in countless contests due to his battle with foul trouble.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol need to pressure Howard early to make him presence disappear.
Get production from your bench
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the Magic due to the lack of bench contribution. The Lakers have the better bench players, who need to produce in order to exploit Orlando's weak second team.
In particular, Lamar Odom needs to get off to hot starts off the bench in order to gain confidence to last for the whole contest.
Make the three point shot
Orlando shot over 40% from three point territory in the two wins against LA. The Magic, overall, were 44-11 in the regular season and 9-1 in the playoffs when shooting over 40% from beyond the arc.
Execute offense through Superman
The Magic were three-and-zero in the Eastern Conference Finals when Dwight Howard got 33+ touches.
Overall in the Orlando post-season victories, Howard gets 33.3 touches, but in losses, Howard only gets 25 touches.
Also, with 31.8% of the Magic offense relying on the pick-and-roll, Howard will be a key in most of the Magic plays.
Limit Kobe Bryant
Bryant in without a doubt a top-two player in the NBA, so you obviously need to limit his production in this series.
Bryant averaged 34.5 points per game in matchups against Orlando this year. Also, in 38 of the last 42 playoff games, Bryant has scored over 20 points.
The Lakers offense relies on Kobe Bryant, therefore if the combination of Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus can limit Bryant, the whole Laker offense suffers.
You see, even though history is against the Magic, the matchup problems Orlando pose along with late stellar play on both the offensive and defensive side of the court will prove to be huge against the Lakers in this year's NBA Finals, which begin Thursday on ABC.
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