The playoffs are all about matchups and how you take advantage of them.
The Orlando Magic have taken this idea to a new level and ridden it all the way to the NBA Finals.
It's natural to look to the Finals and the matchups that will make or break a team's chance at winning a title.
Point Guard: Derek Fisher, Lakers v. Rafer Alston, Magic
I will ignore the fact the Hedo Turkoglu handles the ball about 70 percent of the time, especially after opponents' baskets.
The winner of this matchup will be determined by who shoots better and turns the ball over less.
Fisher is most effective as a spot-up shooter, but his shooting numbers late in the season and in the playoffs have been pretty poor. He has averaged 26.3 minutes a game has shot 12-for-51 from distance (23.5 percent) and 35-for-118 from the field for 35.6 percent for a total of 7.1 points a game.
Alston has been scoring more, 12.7 ppg in the playoffs, but is also more prone to turnovers, 1.78 a game. But his role is very similar to Fisher: "Make open shots."
Alston is winning the ultimate PG stat, assists per game: 4.4 to Fisher's 2.4.
Advantage: Alston—In the playoffs, Alston has scored in double figures five times as many games as Fisher has not. (Excluding Game Five of the Celtics series when he was suspend.)
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, Lakers v. Courtney Lee, Magic
Look for a continuation of a Lee-Mickael Pietrus combo, but Bryant still tops their scoring totals 26.8 to 19.2. Pietrus has taken on the Bruce Bowen role for the Magic as a defensive specialist and a master of the corner three-pointer. Lee has a nice mid-range jumper and is more of a slasher than Pietrus.
And Kobe is Kobe.
Both Lee (6'5" and 200 lbs) and Pietrus (6'6" and 215 lbs) matchup well with Bryant (6'6" and 205).
Advantage: Kobe—It's Kobe.
Small Forward: Trevor Arzia, Lakers v. Hedo Turkoglu, Magic
Arzia is long and athletic enough to matchup and stay with Turkoglu. Turkoglu has issues with players that are quicker, not bigger. But Ariza has size (6'8") and speed to stay with Turkoglu from the perimeter to the post.
Turkoglu has been shot inconsistently in the playoffs, but he's always willing and able in the clutch. His scoring is down to 15.2 ppg from 16.8, but his assists are slightly higher.
In Orlando's closest games, the Magic look to Turkoglu to make their offense go.
Arzia is definitely not the first, second, or third option on offense for the Lakers, but he is averaging 11.4 ppg while shooting 50 percent from behind the arc.
Even though this matchup will be close, I think Turkoglu will find ways to get his numbers and be the go-to guy in the fourth quarter.
Advantage: Turkoglu—Too many ways to score.
Power Forward: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Lakers v. Rashard Lewis, Magic
Much like the shooting guard situation with the Magic, Lamar Odom could start at the 4-spot and then Gasol would move to the 5-spot.
Lewis is Orlando's forgotten man, but the Magic would be forgotten without him. He has caught fire in the playoffs— 19.4 ppg, 40 percent shooting from deep and 44 percent total shooting) and has the best offensive low-post game on the team.
Although he is a matchup problem for 99 percent percent of the teams in the league, the Lakers are in the 1 percent and Lakers coach Phil Jackson has no problem flipping starting lineups if he feels it betters his team.While I am not convinced Gasol can or will guard Dwight Howard, he cannot guard Lewis. But Odom can.
Odom is Lewis, just a couple years older and not as consistent of a shooter. Odom does have a low-post game that is hard to stop and he is a lefty, which is always tricky. Odom is a better rebounder than Lewis (9.5 rpg vs. Lewis' 6.1 rpg) and Odom, when on and busting his butt, is the difference on this team.
This matchup comes down to Odom deciding how hard he wants to play. While Lewis has scored 14 or more points in every playoff game, Odom has only done it six times. But the Laker's are 5-1 in those six games. So if Odom plays like this is his last chance at a title, the matchup goes to the Lakers, but I am not sure he will.
Advantage: Gasol and Odom—when Odom plays well, the Lakers win.
Center: Pau Gasol, Lakers v. Dwight Howard, Magic
Can anyone say polar opposites? Gasol is finesse and Howard is strength. Gasol is crafty while Howard is a better athlete. Gasol can hit from 17 feet, Howard will hit you with an elbow—and then get suspended for it. Gasol is soft on defense, and Howard is the Defensive Player of the Year.
Howard averaged 5.33 fouls a game against the Cavs (we'll call that the LeBron Effect), and fouled out in half of the six games. Howard will be able to keep his counterpart in check by holding his ground, but he can get into foul trouble when flying to the rescue of weak defense.
While Gasol is never considered the defensive power that Howard is, it is interesting that in the playoffs, Gasol is averaging 2 blocks a game and Howard 2.2, but Howard out-rebounds Gasol 15.4 to 11.3.
Gasol has been tougher in the Lakers last two games, but he will be outworked and physically outmatched against Howard.
Advantage: Howard—Gasol can't stop Howard, but Gasol will be productive and make Howard guard him.
Both teams have a few players that can change the game.
For Orlando, it is Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, and Anthony Johnson with Pietrus as the only bench player contributing offensively and getting meaningful minutes (25.3 a game).
The Magic have shortened their bench in the playoffs, unless there is foul trouble, we may not see Tony Battie.
Gortat has been a nice surprise and has stepped up when Howard gets in foul trouble. In the game Howard was suspended, Gortat played 40 minutes, grabbed 15 boards, and had 11 points. Jameer Nelson could be a nice spark—he has been a Laker killer this season—or he could also mess up the chemistry the team has found in the playoffs.
The Lakers are deeper than the Magic and typically run with Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmer, and Sasha Vujacic. They also have Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga to bang with Howard and give up their 12 fouls.
Odom should start, so Bynum will come off the bench and add height, skill, and muscle as the best defender against Howard.
Brown has jumped over Farmar as the first guard off the bench and provides a spark off the bench. Brown is a much better than he was in college, but still has the hops to throw it down. He is also shooting 44 percent from the floor and 48 percent from behind the arc.
Jackson has always relied on his bench, we saw it in Chicago and he continues to rely on them in crucial moments in the game.
Advantage: Lakers—too much talent.
Coaching: Phil Jackson, Lakers v. Stan Van Gundy, Magic
Not sure how you can argue against Jackson, so I will not—there is not much argument. Van Gundy is underrated, but not that underrated. Jackson has nine rings.
Advantage: Lakers—He needs one more ring to cover all his fingers.
Result: Magic in six.
This series will be a battle, and it always comes down to matchups. The key matchup is Odom v. Lewis. Both are will be tough guards for the other, but Odom has been unreliable.
The Lakers should win, but the Magic have lived on proving all the critics wrong.