It's hard to admit that when I see clips of West, Baylor, Wilt, Kareem, and Magic I get familiar chills.
Of course, this year there is a lot more at stake, including Red Auerbach's championship coaching record and Los Angeles coming one championship closer to the Celtics' record 17 titles. Needless to say, I have been rooting for the upstart Orlando Magic since they eliminated the Celtics in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It is impossible to ignore that, despite some minor changes, this Los Angeles team has the same framework as the team that got devastated by Boston at this time last year. Though the names on the jerseys are the same, the team as a unit looks so different in this edition of the NBA Finals.
Kobe looks angry with his teeth gritting, camera snarling.
Doesn't it seem like he knows where the cameras are at all times? Well, we are in L.A. after all.
These Lakers have come into the 2009 NBA Finals on a mission to redeem themselves for the embarrassment that was last year's finals. The Lakers look serious, angry, and focused.
I watched a clip today on NBA.com of highlights from Game One. The video showed Dwight and Kobe at half court with the officials in the customary meeting of captain's prior to game time. Dwight Howard, in his usual manner, tried to lighten up the situation by jokingly telling Kobe Bryant, "I will be watching you." An emotionless Kobe stared back at Dwight with no response, the official referenced the Olympics to ease the tension, Kobe still did not break stare with Dwight, and never cracked a smile.
Welcome to NBA Finals basketball, Superman.
It had finally seemed Superman had learned to fly for an entire series.
While the media was canonizing Howard, he took full advantage of the sudden blitz of public praise. Dwight made comical television appearances to spoof his whimsical head coach Stan Van Gundy. Dwight was typically light-hearted and seemed oblivious to the fact that he was about to enter the lion's den: the NBA Finals, the biggest stage in professional basketball.
Kobe Bryant contrasted Dwight's spoofs, smiles, and light-hearted manner with his own array of one-word answers, stern faces, and totally focused demeanor; he had been here before. For Kobe, however, this year something seemed different. There seemed to be a more deep and urgent style about the manner in which he was carrying himself.
Their on-court play seemed to parallel their off-court disposition.
In Game One, Kobe Bryant scored 40 points and showed the focus and determination arguably unseen since the days of Magic, Larry, and Michael, making his teammates better by dishing out eight assists. Kobe had taken center stage, taking over the game and his cast of characters had not disappointed. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum combined for 36 points and 31 rebounds.
Dwight Howard, in contrast, only attempted six field goals (making one) and seemed completely out of the flow of the game. His teammates never showed any continuity and only Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus scored in double digits. Orlando only compiled 10 assists in the entire game and shot 29 percent.
It had been said repeatedly that the Orlando Magic live and die by the three-point shot. Game One had it's share of open looks from outside the arc (23); Orlando connected on only eight. The Lakers cruised to victory, 100-75.
After Game One, my thoughts had drifted back to previous Lakers playoff victories and how Kobe's supporting cast had a habit of disappearing after good performances. I predicted a close victory for the Magic in Game Two.
As I was to find out, over the course of three series, this Lakers team's refinement was apparent.
The Orlando Magic showed more signs of life in Game Two, dishing out 22 assists, but their 41 percent field goal percentage, 33 percent three-point percentage and 22 turnovers were still cause for concern.
Dwight Howard only attempted 10 shots, connecting on five for 17 points and 16 rebounds. Howard's turnovers continued to be an issue as he threw the ball away seven times.
Howard, shooting only 37 percent from the field, looked confused in situations where he was double teamed. He doesn't seem to know when to pass and when to attack the basket. His low-post game is again showing the gaping holes that were uncovered during the Boston series.
There is no question that Dwight Howard's superman-like physique and athletic nature are a phenomenon rarely seen in sports. Overall, I feel he has intensity and the desire to win, but I am starting to question Dwight's basketball IQ.
Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu returned to their normal offensive form. Lewis in particular was fabulous, scoring a game-high 34 points of 12-of-21 shooting and 6-of-12 on three-point field goals.
Odom and Gasol would not disappear in this game, however. They would compliment Kobe's relatively quiet 29 points with 24 and 19, respectively. Odom in particular was a force on offense and defense, finally living up to his potential.
Truth be told, after two games, the Lakers look more hungry and more experienced. They look to have a killer instinct that is indicative of a champion. Two wins in Orlando and the Lakers will have snatched the title from the Celtics and secured the franchise's 15th.
The ball will be back in Boston's court next year to keep the Celtics record a safe distance away from L.A.
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