This year’s NBA Finals should be an absolute treat (but shh; don’t mention the word treat to Lamar Odom or else he might have a candy craving). Both teams come into the finals after winning convincing Game 6’s on the road, and both teams are long, athletic, and can shoot.
While I drastically underestimated Orlando prior to the Cleveland series, I now see them for what they are—a collection of highly-skilled mismatches and the proud owners of the NBA’s most versatile frontcourt.
The Lakers—well, in the words of Dennis Green, they are who we thought they were. Since day one of the season, everyone has expected the Lakers to make the Finals. Nobody outside of Orlando expected them to be playing the Magic, but we all figured L.A. would still be playing into June.
The Lakers have one of the game’s top two players, and a great complimentary player in Pau Gasol. Just like the Magic, they are extremely versatile and can beat you in many different ways.
Now I’m just going to give you a little position-by-position analysis for the series (Note: Though Andrew Bynum has been starting, the consistent minutes have gone to Lamar Odom. Therefore, I consider Odom as a starter and Bynum off the bench just for the sake of the article):
Dwight Howard has easily been the postseason’s most dominant big man. He had an unbelievable series against Cleveland, scoring almost every time he faced single coverage and finding wide open outside shooters when he didn’t. I couldn’t believe how badly he destroyed Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
That said, it was only Zydrunas Ilgauskas. My grandmother, if she was wearing cement boots, would still be quicker than Big Z. The Lakers have a lot more defenders to send at him.
They will send their tandem of agile seven-footers Howard’s way in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Not only will those two guys do a better job defending Dwight, they’ll also do a better job making him work on defense.
Not to forget, Orlando also has Marcin Gortat, a backup big-man playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy. While Gortat isn’t likely to put up huge numbers, he will do a solid job rebounding and defensively while he’s on the floor.
Advantage: Orlando. Dwight Howard has proven himself to be the NBA’s best center this postseason.
I’m first going to start off with an apology to Lamar Odom. For the past few years, I’ve only thought that he was inconsistent, soft, and too perimeter-oriented.
Now, I understand that he was only fighting an addiction to candy. It was his sweet tooth, not his shortage of, for lack of a better word, intestinal fortitude, that has kept him from reaching his potential. So sorry, Lamar, I had you figured out all wrong.
Despite his addictions, Odom is the reason I am picking the Lakers to win this series. The Magic have relied on the athleticism and skill of Rashard Lewis to create a mismatch against whomever was guarding him. Rashard had an easy time punishing Brian Scalabrine and Anderson Varejao in the first two rounds.
This series, though, Rashard will have his hands full with Odom, who is even taller and just as athletic as Lewis. Rashard will still produce, but his points will be a lot harder to come by this series.
Advantage: Push. Although, if Lamar finds that giant package of Starbursts Phil Jackson’s been hiding from him, Lewis may get the better of him.
Hedo Turkoglu is another Magic player who has thrived on creating mismatches so far during the postseason. Well, he won’t have nearly as much of one in Trevor Ariza. Ariza is quick, strong, and long, and known as a very good defender.
Look for the Magic to run a lot of high ball screens for Turk, looking to attack the pick-and-roll defense of Odom and Gasol, which at times during the postseason has looked suspect.
While Ariza is a talented player who has somehow found his perimeter shooting stroke in the playoffs, Turkoglu will have the better of him in this series. At 6’10", Turkoglu is incredibly skilled and a tough matchup even for the likes of Ariza.
Everyone knows Kobe Bryant as one of the NBA’s top two players and everyone knows that Kobe is one of the game’s top closers. But Kobe needs this title to cement his legacy. Yes, he’s won three championship rings, but he hasn’t been the best player on a single one of those teams.
You can say what you want about how everyone but Jordan needs a dominant big man to win the title (Magic had Kareem, Bird had McHale and Parish, Dwyane Wade had Shaq), but those three guys were all the best players on their teams. The dominant big man, in every case, was clearly the second option.
Kobe has never won a championship where he was the best player. He had his best chance last year, but he had a tough series and never really got a rhythm going. With his window of opportunity coming slowly to an end, this could be Kobe’s last shot at getting his own ring.
Courtney Lee will be defending him, and is a tough defender, especially for a rookie. Clearly, though, he is no match for Kobe Bryant. The Magic will rely on their great team defense to try to hold Bryant in check.
I never thought I’d say this, but “Skip to My Lou” is a more solid point guard than Derek Fisher.
Yeah, Rafer Alston shot the ball like he couldn’t even see the basket against the Celtics, but he was instrumental to the Magic’s win over the Cavaliers, spreading the court and making good decisions. Even in the Celtics’ series, Skip played solidly, moving the ball and taking open shots.
Fisher, at this point in his career, is a shell of the player he used to be. In the Lakers’ glory days, Fisher was deadly from beyond the arc – now, he is inconsistent, to be nice. If Phil Jackson weren’t so loyal to Fish, he’d probably be on the bench rather than still starting. Fisher is a liability, even against Rafer Alston.
Both teams have gotten solid production from their benches. The Lakers have a deep crew consisting of Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, and Andrew Bynum. While Farmar has had a down season, his play has picked up recently and he looks far more confident.
Brown, a throw-in to the midseason Vladimir Radmanovic trade, has proved indespensible off the bench, providing a little bit of scoring and a solid defensive presence.
At big-man, Bynum, though he didn’t play much in either of the first two series’, will be featured far more in this series to try to contain Howard. He is strong and pretty agile, and should do a decent job on Howard in the post.
The Magic, while not as deep off the bench as the Lakers, have seen great production. The 2009 winner of the Annual Playoff Surprise of the Year, Mickael Pietrus, has been an assassin in these playoffs, as well as the Magic’s go-to defensive stopper.
Look for him to guard Kobe a lot in this series after he made LeBron work so hard for his points in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Down low, Marcin Gortat has been great for the Magic. He has given them great minutes off the bench, and should provide the same against the Lakers. While he’s not a threat to score thirty, Gortat does all the little things to help the Magic win.
A wild-card for Orlando is Jameer Nelson. Will he play? If he does, will he play well? Would his return hurt the Magic’s chemistry?
I don’t know how well a player can come back from an injury to be inserted straight into a pressure-packed NBA Finals game, but if Jameer can come back near the level he played at for the first half of the season he would be a huge addition.
Advantage: Lakers. Their versatility and depth is unbelievable. They go two deep at every position.
I am done sleeping on the Magic. They have proven me wrong the last two series. I’ve finally become a believer, and I see them winning a super-tight series. The Magic’s shooting and defense will be too much for the Lakers to overcome. Magic in seven.
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