So it has come to this: The two most evenly matched teams are in the NBA Finals.
The key to victory for the Lakers rests in their ability to defend the three. They’ll require improvement on that front to win.
In the two games during the regular season, the Magic shot 40 percent and 42 percent from behind the arc.
Who was their main three-point assassin? Jameer Nelson, who lit the Lakers up from downtown and scored a combined 55 points against the Lakers in the regular season.
Nelson, in those two games, made 58 percent of his three-point shots. He accounted for a quarter of the total Magic points in both games against the Lakers during the regular season.
Nelson appeared to be done for the season, suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder Feb. 2. Had he not suffered this injury, Nelson would more than likely have been the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference All Stars.
After a practice on Tuesday, players said Nelson looked “terrific” and that he might see playing time. The Lakers better hope that claim is merely hopeful optimism and not sound medical opinion.
The Magic have been doing just fine in the Eastern Conference playoffs without their star point guard, and many role players have emerged, leading them to victories over such basketball titans as the Celtics and the Cavaliers.
Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu have elevated their games in the absence of Nelson. They are both just as potent from distance; Lewis is shooting 39 percent and Turkoglu 37 percent.
Another bright star is emerging down in the Sunshine State.
Dwight Howard has been unstoppable in the paint during the playoffs. The 23-year-old center is averaging 21 points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks per game.
Howard has one Achilles heel: his free throw shooting, averaging only 64 percent. It will be up to players like Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to defend Howard while keeping their fouls in check.
Bynum must return to the regular season form he was in before being sidelined with a knee injury. His comeback has not been what the Lakers were hoping for. Averaging only six points per game, three rebounds, and one block will not be adequate against the mighty Howard, who has eclipsed Bynum’s game.
I bet by now you’re wondering, “When is he going to mention Kobe Bryant?”
Bryant has been responsible for leading his team back to the Finals a year after losing in them—a daunting task indeed. His 29 points and 40 minutes per game are tops on the team.
Can Kobe be the leader all Laker fans expect him to be, while giving veterans Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, and younger players like Shannon Brown a chance to contribute?
Can he and Trevor Ariza stop the Magic three-point assault?
It will be Kobe’s ability to make the players around him better that will be the deciding factor in the outcome of this series.