Can you feel it? This is the NBA finals match up that we’ve been unknowingly waiting for all our lives. It is the match up that will pit two completely different organizations against each other in a battle for our souls. This is the zen Phil Jackson vs the energetic Stan Van Gundy.
Its the clash between a dominant offensive swing player (Kobe) vs a dominant defensive big man (Howard.) This is the series of one foreign sidekick named Gasol going up against another foreign sidekick named Turkoglu.
Its the battle where Odom tries to prove that candy is good for you while Marcin Gortat tries to prove he isn’t the evil European guy that chased Bruce Willis around in that one movie. Even more epic, its Disneyland vs Disney World. This is the NBA FINALS! Let’s break it down:
Big Man Breakdown:Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol vs Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis:
I can’t help myself. I refuse to be as impressed by Howard as I am apparently supposed to be based on what ESPN tells me. Listen, Howard is an amazing help defender and I will not argue that. He is also this generation’s greatest rebounder. At everything else, he is just a work in progress.
Still, even I can admit that his progress has definitely been sped up by the Magic making it to the finals. He is slowly getting more comfortable around the basket in terms of establishing position and passing out of double teams. It is this last point that is going to force the Lakers’ hand and most likely they will single team Howard with Bynum to start the game.
If Bynum wants to make life easier for himself when he is going to desperately try to prevent Howard from getting great position when the Magic are on offense, he has to go right at him on the other end. Howard hasn’t been challenged once by the opposing team’s starting center, and that has made it easier for him to play help defense and still have energy to play offense.
Bynum is actually further along offensively than Howard, and should make him sweat a little, you know, before he picks up two fouls on the other end four minutes in and goes to the bench.
One of the the other reasons you can’t double Howard is because it potentially leaves Rashard Lewis open. This entire playoffs have basically been a showcase for Lewis’s skills on a bigger stage.
However despite the fact that he is tall enough to play power forward for the Magic, the basic reason why Lewis has been so dynamic on offense is because he is really just a big small forward. Thus, he has been too quick and too good of an outside shooter to be bothered by anyone trying to guard him.
Still, he is going to have his hands full with Gasol. Gasol can get out and harass his jumper (Gasol tends to be an inconsistent post defender, but he is great against the perimeter orientated power forwards like Dirk Nowitzki or in this case Lewis.) and stay with Lewis when he drives to the hole.
On the other end, Gasol will take Lewis to the post and force Howard to provide help. That should allow room for cutters and spot shooters and really open up the Lakers offense.
Really unless Kobe goes nuts in the fourth quarter (very possible) or the voters just give it to Kobe because he is Kobe (even more possible) there is a good chance that the MVP of this series should be either Howard or Gasol depending on which team wins.
Advantage: Magic because Howard and Lewis are infinitely more consistent than Bynum (who currently strings together good basketball games as well as Nic Cage strings together good movies) and Gasol (whose own consistency doesn’t deserve to be questioned as often as it does, but what is inconsistent is how often the Laker guards notice him on the block.)
Swingman Breakdown:Kobe Bryant and Trevor Ariza vs Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee:
While I am consistently underwhelmed by Howard, I am just as consistently wowed by Hedo Turkoglu. If you ask me, he has to be this team’s MVP on offense. He generally initiates the offense and take the teams big shots when they need one.
Listen, about half of Howard’s points every game are created by Hedo. His shot has been very iffy so far this season, but when its on, he is unstoppable. He is also one of the least impressive unstoppable players ever, because every time you watch him you have absolutely no idea how anyone is falling for all of his fakes, and yet, that is exactly what happens every time this guy so much as budges his head.
Trying to stop him anyway will be Trevor Ariza who has become a defensive ace for the Lakers. Ariza has the speed to take away Turkoglu’s drive and ball deny all day long. He doesn’t quite have the length to bother his shot, but luckily Turkoglu hasn’t shot well lately anyway.
If Ariza is on his game and shuts down Turkoglu, then the Magic are in for a really short series. They have to provide screens and give him room to operate.
On the other end, Turkoglu is probably best suited allowing Ariza to shoot all day. Ariza has actually vastly improved his jump shot and is also comfortable driving to the hoop, but at the end of the day every shot that Ariza takes is one that Kobe, Gasol, Odom, or any of the Lakers other shooters is not getting.
Of course the best player in this series is Kobe Bryant and he is hungry. There is no way that he wants to lose a third finals in a row and the Magic are going to have to provide a lot of help in the 4th quarter against him if they want to win.
Kobe will make life hell for Courtney Lee who just got over having to guard Lebron. Kobe can’t drive anymore the way Lebron can, but Kobe can shoot the lights out with the ball and force Lee to play up on him. Expect half of Howard’s fouls to be a result of Kobe getting past Lee and compromising the Magic defense.
Courtney Lee is basically the shooting guard version of Andrew Bynum in the sense that if he wants to make life easier for himself, he is going to have to make Kobe work on the other end by hitting his jump shots and stopping Kobe from cheating on him and hawking the passing lanes.
Advantage: Lakers because if Ariza can stop Hedo on one end and Kobe is as unstoppable as he can be on the other end, this is going to be a very short series.
Point Guard Breakdown:Derek Fisher vs Rafer Alston:
If I am Stan Van Gundy, I am shutting Alston in a room and just making him watch clips of Aaron Brooks of the Rockets absolutely manhandle Derek Fisher. Alston isn’t quite as fast as Brooks, but as far as Fisher is concerned its like downgrading from a car to a motorcycle in a race against a bicycle.
Sure, the motorcycle that is Alston isn’t as fast as the car that is Brooks, but as long as you’re racing against the cheap, broken down bicycle that is Derek Fisher, you won’t know the difference.
Listen, I grew up watching Fisher on the Lakers, and he is a great role player, team leader, and all of that, but he is in the twilight of his career. If he wants to extend his career, he should be playing off the bench, playing around 15 minutes a game, and then serving as basically an assistant coach for the rest of the game.
To trot him out for 25 minutes when he’s too slow to guard any point guard at all is just cruel.
In fact I would go so far as to say that the Lakers are better off putting Fisher on Lee and have Kobe play a step off of Alston. Fisher is strong enough to not get backed down by Lee, and Kobe is smart enough with his length to harass Alston.
If Fisher does stay on Alston, then there is one thing that Fisher needs to do. Listen, Alston will drive past him all day, but when he does and Gasol, Bynum, or Odom has to rotate, Fisher has to also rotate and try to box out the open Magic big man for as long as he can to give Gasol, Bynum, or Odom time to rotate.
Against the Magic, there are going to be rebounds landing all over the place because both teams like to shoot three pointers a lot. Thus, the team that wins is probably the one that grabs the most of these stray rebounds.
Advantage: Magic win this one easily.
The Bench Breakdown:
Both teams are going to utilize their benches quite a bit, so they will be vital to the outcome of the series. The Magic will bring Pietrus first off the bench in order to throw someone else at Kobe while also giving minutes to Gortat (whenever Howard is in foul trouble) and Anthony Johnson (because its always nice to have a player that makes Derek Fisher look somewhat fast.)
Meanwhile the Lakers are going to throw all kinds of looks at the Magic because they’ll be bringing off their bench Lamar Odom (who will play more minutes than Bynum and can guard Lewis probably better than Gasol,) Luke Walton (because he spreads the offense and runs it better than Ariza,) Sasha Vujacic (the token energy guy who currently can’t hit a three pointer to save his life) and either Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar (depending on who does a better job against Alston.)
The best guy off the Lakers bench is of course Odom. Odom is that rare big man who can get the rebound, run the break, and then make the perfect pass to get his teammate an open shot. He is also the rare big man who can ignore the taunts and physical nature of the opposing team and remain practically invisible through 30 minutes.
During the last two games, Odom played like the former, but I’m sure Phil Jackson is well aware that the latter is always just around the corner.
Luckily for Laker fans, Odom has a solid track record when being matched up against small forwards masquerading as power forwards. Any physical advantage that Lewis enjoyed in the earlier three rounds is lost against Odom who by the way has also played small forward successfully in his career.
For the Magic, their x factor has to be Pietrus who is coming off a great conference finals when he consistently made Lebron work for his points. In the end that is all that matters because there is no way that you actually shut down a Lebron or Kobe. Still, if you can get them to score 30 points on like 25+ shots, then your team can take that at least as a moral victory if not just a key factor in a Magic victory.
Advantage: Lakers simply because Odom would be a starter for most teams.
Coaching Breakdown:Phil Jackson vs Stan Van Gundy:
Stan Van Gundy is a very interesting coach because aesthetically he has created a system built around (at least on offense) simply finding the open man and trusting him. That’s basketball at its purest, which is great except that he does this to a fault.
For example, he often ignores certain match up problems for other teams that he should take advantage of such as when he didn’t force the ball to Rashard Lewis when he was guarded by Glen Davis of the Celtics who had no chance of guarding him.
Phil Jackson on the other hand has been to the mountaintop and has won nine rings in 11 tries. He trusts in his triangle offense for the first three quarters, but is flexible enough to understand Kobe is going to take over in the fourth.
He attacks match up problems and generally does a much better job tinkering with his game plan on the fly during the game where as Van Gundy is generally a bit more set in his ways.
In any case, both are very good and this should lead to an evenly matched series
Advantage: Lakers because Jackson just has a wealth of experience over Van Gundy.
Lakers in Six. The Magic will put up a good fight, but as long as the Lakers play up to their capabilities (never a sure thing, but you have to believe they do it in the finals) this should end with Phil Jackson finally passing Red Auerbach for his 10th ring and Kobe cementing himself as one of the greatest players of all time. Better luck next year Dwight Howard.