Can Kobe Bryant Win Without Shaq?

james lawrenceCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

DENVER - MAY 29:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the second half against the Denver Nuggets in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on May 29, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

As a huge Cavaliers fan, I wanted nothing more than to see LeBron square off with the Black Mamba for a championship.

Because that is no longer a possibility, I first assume that Kobe is getting his fourth title. Then I really look at the Orlando Magic, and think this is going to be a hard NBA Finals.

Kobe Bryant is a man among boys (except LeBron), and he dominates the guard position better then any player I have ever seen. His ability to strike from inside or outside makes him the ultimate threat. He is averaging 28.6 points per game and is the focal point of the L.A. offense. His dominant presence shows even on a team that has Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.

The Los Angeles Lakers look very good coming into the Finals, but can they handle the underdog Orlando Magic? The Magic have a very explosive offensive and an arsenal of nice-sized weapons.

The Magic have players at almost every position who can knock down three-point shots, which creates problems for teams because of fastbreak points.

Orlando is a team that creates matchup problems for any team because of how big their lineup is. A deep bench and amazing three-point shooting is another big advantage for the Magic, who look to shut down the Lakers' backcourt game.

The Lakers starting lineup of T. Ariza, K. Bryant, A. Bynum, D. Fisher, and P. Gasol is very impressive, not only by names but also the .800 win percentage they have as a starting five.

The Magic also have an impressive lineup of R. Alston, D. Howard, C. Lee, R. Lewis, and H. Turkoglu, who have a .696 winning percentage as a starting five. They also have a record of 16-7 as a group, which is an impressive record.

What it comes down to is the post play from Dwight Howard, who is a phenomenal player with the ability to win and take over games. He can create open looks by distracting attention from the guards. He is averaging a double double with 20.6 points and 13.8 rebounds a game. Those stats are impressive, because he is usually double or triple guarded at all times.

When you break down the numbers and really look at the stats, both teams have similar credentials and play at supreme levels of basketball. No matter how you look at it, there is only one team that has the edge, or X factor if you will.

The X factor in this series is Kobe Bryant, hands down.

Kobe is a player on another level, especially considering his outstanding defense. There's more to the game than just scoring points. That was Kobe's M.O. three years ago. Now, he comprehends that less is more, even in the run up to the Finals. Less talking, less emotion.

In the playoffs, Orlando has scored 107.8 points per 100 possessions, and Los Angeles has given up 101.8 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers are scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, and Orlando has allowed 100.5 points per 100 possessions.

It may not seem like much, but that is scary to think about, which makes you wonder if the Lakers can do it this year. It's not hard to discern what Orlando is trying to do on offense. They want to establish Howard inside and surround him with shooters who are ready to score when Howard is surrounded.

This strategy has never been more evident, or successful, than against Cleveland, which simply had no one who could contain Howard by himself. So when Cleveland showed double teams (or even a third guy), Orlando hurt them with three-pointers from all four starters and Mickael Pietrus off the bench.

Both teams have played impressive basketball, but Orlando has been more impressive to this point. Of their combined seven losses, three have come from buzzer-beaters. They blew out the Sixers without Howard on the road to close that series in Game 6, then beat Boston in Game 7, again on the road.

After that, they beat the league's best team, with the best home record, in Game 1 on the road.

L.A. has had some significant wins this spring, but none compare to those three Magic wins, except possibly Game 6 in Denver. The Magic are playing their best ball of the season, and have almost all of their players playing at their best. They are in sync and confident.

But just as they held the matchup advantage against Cleveland, so too does Los Angeles with them. Yes, Orlando won both games this season, but none have been played since mid-January and both teams look very different now.

Los Angeles breezed through Utah, showed great toughness to dispatch Houston, and then stepped up the intensity and execution to beat the Nuggets. And unlike the Magic, the Lakers have the pain of last season's failure to help provide the proper mindset this time around.

Both teams can, and will, win on the road. But in six or seven games, the Lakers should be able to hold off the Magic and claim another title.

After all is said and done, Kobe Bryant furthers his legacy and adds ring number four to the collection.

PREDICTION: Lakers 4-3 over the Magic.