Lakers-Magic: The Roads to the NBA Finals

Reavis DorseyContributor IJune 4, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the second half against the Orlando Magic in Game One of the 2009 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The morning of the Big Day.

You sit there and stare at the ceiling as you ignore your alarm clock, since you were awake before it went off.

It has finally come.  Butterflies, anxious butterflies, circle your stomach—but you have to eat your Wheaties.

Every minute feels like an hour. You put your headphones on and listen to music to make the time go by faster and hype yourself up.

Pregame huddle, you and your teammates are hyping each other up.  Pounds to the chest, hive fives, prayers.

The long walk through the tunnel to the court.  Fans, lights, cameras.

Then the tip off, and the ball is in your hands.

It's the 30th time in Lakers franchise history that they had made it to the finals and won 14 rings.  This is the Magic's second trip to the Finals in franchise history.  The first was in 1995, when Shaq and Penny were swept in four games by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

Both teams had a tough road in the 2009 playoffs to make it to the Finals.

The Los Angles Lakers went into the Playoffs first in the West, favored to make it to the Finals—and with a chip on their shoulder from losing the Finals the previous year to the Boston Celtics.

The Lakers won the first round against the Utah Jazz fairly easily, but their toughness was challenged in the second round against the Houston Rockets. 

Ever since losing to the Boston Celtics, the Lakers' toughness was questioned.  Kobe stated that his team was very dynamic and quick, but lacked that toughness needed to be dominant.

The Rockets pushed the Lakers around in every way possible, mentally and physically, from Shane Battier getting stitches to Derek Fisher giving Louis Scola a vicious elbow—not to mention Ron Artest's usual antics.

A total of ten technical fouls were assessed during the series, with Kobe earning two of them while Artest tried to get into Kobe's head during the series.

The Lakers eventually prevailed—only to face a Devner Nuggets team ready to dethrone the reigning Western Conference Champs.

Carmelo Anthony was playing up to his full potential, in the midst up a stretch of games putting up 30-plus points.  Alongside him, Chauncey Billups added his experience and leadership, and lived up to his name "Mr Big Shot".

The Nuggets proved to be more of a threat to the Lakers than the Rockets—especially since L.A. was coming off a grueling series.  But the Nuggets soon lost their swagger, and Anthony's stretch of games with 30-plus points ended. 

The Lakers were Western Conference champs—and heading to the Finals once again.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic were making a name for themselves in the playoffs after having a great regular season, earning them the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Magic played well in the first round and sent the Sixers home in six games. Next were the Boston Celtics, the NBA champions.

Yes, the Celtics were coming out of a tough first-round series with the Bulls. And no, they didn't have Garnett.  But they still had plenty of Championship heart left in them. 

Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard didn't have his best scoring average of the playoffs during this series, but his teammates proved he didn't need to.

Rashard Lewis, Hedu Turkoglu, Rafer Alston, and Courtney Lee all stepped up their game to fight the Boston Celtics to a Game Seven—which they won in a blowout.

Waiting in the wings with plenty of rest were LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Up to this point, the Cavaliers were a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs and had won all their games by double-digits—which was an NBA playoff record.  But surprisingly, after Lewis's big three in the closing seconds of Game One, the Orlando Magic never looked back.

Despite James's big shot in Game Two to win the game and the desperate Game Five victory, the Magic controlled this series.  Stan Van Gundy showed how he and his team can adjust to any game at halftime, come back in the third quarter, and knock their opponents' socks off.

This gave them the reputation of the "throne killers," knocking off both the defending champs and King James.

There's so many factors that will affect the Finals.  How tough will Odom, Gasol, and Bynum be?  How big of a factor can Jameer Nelson be?  And the big question—can Kobe win with without Shaq?

No one will know.

So whoever gets that ball in their hands first has to make that decision.