Going into the NBA Finals, to say the Los Angeles Lakers are favorites would be the understatement of the century. How the Orlando Magic even got out of the second round is still on most people's minds.
Allen Iverson may have to find a new nickname, because "the answer" to that question and most questions surrounding this series is Dwight Howard.
Closing off the lane, putting pressure on other big men to foul him, changing and blocking shots, and rebounding at an inhuman rate, Howard may not have been the MVP in the regular season, but he's certainly the MVP in the playoffs thus far.
It's because of him that a role player like Hedo Turkoglu or secondary stars like Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson look like unstoppable superstars in spurts. It is because of him that opposing guards cringe when they see the paint, or why opposing centers and power forwards tend to spend more time with a towel over their head than usual.
The Lakers' attack may have met its match in Howard, because if the Lakers had trouble with the Rockets, they're going to have just as much, if not more, against the Magic.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are main pieces. Limiting them means the Lakers will be depending on the not-so-reliable Lamar Odom and Co. to do major damage. Considering how much Odom will have to do on defense against Lewis and Turkoglu, perhaps this entire series rests on the broad shoulders of Andrew Bynum.
Gasol's numbers against the Magic were the worst against any team in the league. Nelson, who should be available to play, averaged his best numbers in two wins over the Lakers.
Therefore, it's almost shocking the Magic are underdogs going into this series. If Nelson returns and brings even close to what he was able to bring during the regular season, the Lakers' point guards will be in for some trouble.
If the Magic can stop Bryant from penetrating and keep him running around on defense guarding their shooters, they'll have a chance to close this series out in six games.
The rule of thumb regarding jump-shooting teams is that they tend to regress and eventually fall apart in the playoffs.
That rule might have to be re-worked to say that those teams tend to fall apart, unless they have the top big man in the game patrolling the middle. You learn something new every year.
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