Lakers-Magic: L.A. Needs to Get Dwight Howard Into Foul Trouble....Early!

McCord RobertsCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 16: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic shoots over Andrew Bynum #17 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers on January 16, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Magic won 109-103. 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The main key to this season's NBA Finals and how it unfolds between the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic lies entirely with Dwight Howard—and how long he is able to stay on the floor.

Howard’s presence inside will make it tough for the Lakers' big men—Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom—to get their easy baskets.

However, if the Lakers play with the type of relentless inside intensity that they exhibited in Games Five and Six against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, they should be able to neutralize the Magic’s big man—because more than likely, Howard will be in foul trouble and off the court more than the Magic would like.

So much time has passed since the Magic and Lakers squared up in the regular season. They played twice at each other’s home court in December and January, and the Magic won both times with much of the same style of play that has carried the Magic through the playoffs to where they are now.

Basically, the Magic heaved up a barrage of three-pointers, rebounded well, clogged the middle with their fly swatter, and let the other team’s star player go wild. In the process, Pau Gasol was almost non-existent along with a pre-injury Andrew Bynam. Lamar Odom had one good game off the bench and scored 17 points, but was a no-show in the other with only four points.

That type of inconsistency from the Lakers' front court is what almost got them into trouble with the Nuggets—a team that could have just as easily won the first four games of that series as easily as they lost two of them. The combination of Denver’s front line blocking shots and rebounding on offense and defense along with forcing the Lakers out of the paint is something that the Magic can duplicate—and in the matter of the December and January games against the Lakers, they already have.

The Magic’s game plan seems so simple, but it’s very effective. The way they let LeBron James run wild in the Eastern Conference Finals was pure genius on Head Coach Stan Van Gundy’s behalf. Basically, let LeBron do what he wants—but keep the others from beating you.

If we look at what Kobe did against the Magic in those two regular-season games, the box scores look identical to what LeBron did in the East Finals. Kobe had a triple double in one game, scored 41 in another, and was a combined 24-of-56 from the field. What is even more surprising when looking at the two regular season games is that Kobe was a combined minus-17, with the bench actually on the plus side without Kobe on the floor.

The Lakers look much more like a complete team now, at least in their last two games played against Denver. It’s likely that Kobe has identified all these similarities and trends as well and will look to light a fire underneath Gasol and Odom again with the goal of ultimately winning a championship.

The Magic are what they are, and whatever that is, they do it well. The last thing Kobe and the Lakers need is to rely on Kobe to do all the scoring again. He can score whenever he wants and can go for forty a night if he chooses, but his best bet may be to force his guys right at Howard, get him into foul trouble, and open up the middle for his front line.

Should be fun!  I’ll take Lakers in six.