In the 2009 playoffs, it seems that the Lakers have not come to play unless they feel challenged. They've also looked ripe for the upset at times as well.
When they have been in close series, the Lakers have taken care of business.
The Magic have beaten the best of the Eastern Conference in the form of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Orlando also got rid of the defending champion Boston Celtic, albeit without their all star center Kevin Garnett.
Breaking this matchup down, starting with the starting point guards, the edge has to go to the Orlando Magic. Rafer Alston has played well for the Magic in place of Jameer Nelson. Alston is good shooting threat in the Orlando three point shooting offence. Alston does not get the ball in his hands late in a game but he can get open to hit open shots.
The Lakers start Derek Fisher at point guard and at times his age has shown on the court. Instead of hitting open shots, Fisher has not made the big plays like in years past.
If he is on with his shooting, Fisher can still score points but lately he has been used with a trio of point guards.
Alston has been more even and steady in the playoffs, so he gets the slight edge.
At the shooting guard spot, the Lakers have the edge with the sure-fire hall of famer Kobe Bryant willing his team to the finals and a championship. Bryant is one of the best closers at the end of a ball game, and if a game is close, the Lakers will put the ball in Bryant’s hands to win the game.
Courtney Lee, the starting point guard for the Magic, is not a bad player—he's just not Kobe. Again, Lee is a good shooter in the Magic’s long bombing shooting game. If Alston is on he can score a lot of points, but Bryant can shut him down at any time with his defense.
The small forward position could be a wild card in this matchup. A slight edge goes to the Magic who start Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu helped the Magic dominate Cleveland with the screen and roll that the Cavaliers never figured out how to defend.
If Turkoglu can drive and dish to wide open shooters at the end of close ball games, the Magic can steal some games. That is if the Orlando shooters can hit shots. If the Lakers defense does not collapse to stop Turkoglu, he can finish at the rim or pass the ball to an open Dwight Howard.
The Lakers start Trevor Ariza at the small forward, who has had a nice postseason so far. He will have to stop Turkoglu and the screen and roll. That is unless they switch Bryant on him to shut the play down.
Ariza can score but mainly if teams double team Bryant and Pau Gasol. Whereas Turkoglu can make his own shot, Ariza has to run the offense to get a shot or rebound and put the ball back up.
The power forward matchup has to be a push. Both Pau Gasol and Rashard Lewis have played well in the playoffs. Lewis does most of his damage from the outside as the Magic like to rotate the ball from inside out. Lewis can go to the basket and can get to the line as well.
Lewis will have his hands full with the Lakers' Pau Gasol, who has great moves and great hands for a seven foot forward. If he gets touches can score points and take pressure off Bryant. As with all the Lakers' big men, he can help get Howard in foul trouble or get in foul trouble himself trying to help defend him.
If Lewis is making outside shots Gasol will have to move from the basket and that would be best for the Magic.
The Magic have a definite advantage at center with Dwight Howard leading Orlando to the Finals. Howard can grab a ton of rebounds and score many points. He has become very skilled at his jump hook as the postseason has gone along. The problem for Howard is that he can get into foul trouble quickly. That can get the Magic in trouble quickly, especially if they are not hitting outside shots.
Los Angeles has Andrew Bynum at center. He has been up and down at best. Bynum has not had a very good playoff run. At times, Lakers coach Phil Jackson has become very annoyed with Bynum as he has spent more time in foul trouble than scoring points.
Bynum will have a lot of trouble guarding Howard since he has struggled playing defense in the playoffs.
The bench play for the Magic was good in the Cleveland series and will have to continue against the Lakers. Mickael Pietrus will have his hands full with Kobe Bryant. Pietrus did a good job of making LeBron James work on both ends of the court.
Pietrus did not stop James from scoring, but he did try to make him work to hit shots, which is about the best a player can do against someone of the caliber of James or Bryant. Pietrus can also make Bryant work by having to guard him on the offensive end of the court by hitting shots.
Also playing well in the Cavalier series was Marcin Gortat, adding some scoring and rebounding.
The best player off the Lakers bench is Lamar Odom, but the only problem is Odom can be a double-double player one night and not show up the next. In the point guard rotation is Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown both can add some scoring off the bench.
Other Lakers getting playing time are Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic who can score but mainly help rest players.
The biggest X-factor in the series could be if the Magic play Jameer Nelson, who has been injured but has been practicing with the team. The idea that Nelson will not have any playoff intensity is crazy. If a player cannot get up for the NBA Finals he cannot get up for anything.
The biggest question is, if Nelson does play, can he hit shots? After the layoff Nelson’s jump shot has to be rusty, but if he can make shots and give some good minutes off the bench, he could be a series changer.
I think every game in this series will be close. The Magic should win a home and the Lakers have the home court. The major factor is Kobe Bryant.
If the games are close Kobe will win games for the Lakers. That is why I have to say the Lakers will win their 15th NBA Championship in seven games.
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