1. Will Dwight Howard take over the series or can someone slow him down?
The 6′11″ man-child averaged 15.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game in the series and overall played pretty well. However, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum did enough to make sure that he did not take over the series.
It became evident as the games went on that Howard does not have very many moves in his arsenal down low. Also, the Lakers did a good job of denying Howard the ball, which on occasion, led to offensive fouls.
Defensively, Howard really played exceptionally well. He averaged 2.6 blocks per game including a nine-swat performance in game four and shutdown the Lakers front court pretty well.
Pau Gasol got his expected averages of 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds, but outside of him the Lakers were quiet in the paint. It seemed that only Kobe was able to get in the lane and do any damage. Unfortunately, that was enough.
Overall, Howard had an excellent series but, outside of Game 4 on defense, he never took over a game like he did against Cleveland. The Lakers took this key and it proved to be big for the Lakers.
2. Can the Lakers step up their three point defense or will the Magic shoot freely?
In what would prove to be the biggest key to the series (as it had been for the Magic the whole playoffs), the Lakers stepped up big and did not allow the Magic to beat them from beyond the arc.
For the series, the Magic were 38 of 115 from downtown, good for a 33 percent average. That percentage and the 7.6 threes they made per game were both down from their season averages (10 3pg, 38.1 percent) and playoff averages (8.4 3pg, 36 percent). They shot the same amount of threes as their playoff average at 23 per game but they did not fall.
While it was evident the Magic were trying to work the ball into Howard, the transition game never got going and because of it, the Lakers took this key as well.
3. Can Orlando find their “X-Factor” to cancel out Lamar Odom?
No, they could not. Odom, while his numbers were not huge, played a key role in the Lakers bringing home the title.
As did Trevor Ariza, who single-handedly brought the Lakers back in game four, scoring 11 of the Lakers’ 13 points during a key run. Odom shot 54 percent from the field and put in 13.2 points per game while grabbing almost eight rebounds. Foul trouble cost him some minutes but overall Odom was huge.
Ariza played solid in Orlando after having two terrible games in the Staples Center. He played his usual fantastic defense and was a spark in the Lakers’ lineup.
The problem was that the Magic were looking for a player to cancel out these two role players and could not get it done. In the preview, we mentioned Mickael Pietrus as an X-factor type guy that could have a big impact on the series.
It was interesting to note that in Pietrus’ only real good game of the series, game three, the Magic won. Outside of that game, the France native never got anything going and struggled much of the series to find his shot. He only shot 12 threes in the entire series.
4. Can Jameer Nelson give the Magic good minutes or will he just mess with the chemistry?
I really thought this was going to be one of the biggest factors going into the series and it is up for debate on whether or not it actually mattered. In no game did Nelson receive more minutes than starter Rafer Alston, but after game one Alston said that Nelson being in the game threw him off. While some saw it as an excuse for Alston’s two for nine shooting slump, I fully believed him.
Coincidentally, the only the game the Magic won in this series, Alston played the most minutes of any game and Nelson played the least. It’s one thing for a player to be out for some of the playoffs and come back and try to mesh with the team.
Nelson, however, had missed over half the season and tried to play with a team that had already decided Alston was their guy. The two are similar in style of play but it didn’t matter as Nelson looked lost on the court at times, and Alston was clearly frustrated.
I believe that Nelson did more harm than good in the series and that game four would have been different had Alston received more minutes. Head coach Stan Van Gundy said Nelson was part of a unit in that game that had played well and that is why he stuck with Nelson over Alton for the fourth quarter and overtime.
I am sure Van Gundy would have liked the extra two inches Alston would have given him playing defense on Derek Fisher as time ran down and Fisher made the game-tying three.
5. Which team will take advantage of the home court advantage first?
The Lakers did an excellent job of taking games one and two of the series to make it near impossible for the Magic to come back in the series. Who knows what would have been different had Courtney Lee made the last-second shot in game two?
It was hard to imagine Orlando taking either one of the first two games but they definitely had their shots to tie the series back up playing at home. Kobe and the Lakers proved to be just too much as they would end up hoisting the trophy in Orlando.
6. Will Kobe Bryant make this his series or will the Magic make someone else beat them?
As much as the Magic tried not to let Kobe beat them, there is still a reason he is the best player on the planet and hoisted the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award at the end of the series. Double teams came. They hacked him in the paint and wrapped him up whenever possible.
None of it mattered.
As much as I wanted to make this a key to the series, it was hard for me to believe that Kobe was not going to take over the series and do everything he possibly could to win it all. He did so, averaged 34.2 points per game, 7.8 assists!, and 5.6 rebounds.
There was nobody in the gym that could stop him or even slow him down. As much as I hate that Pau Gasol has a ring, I am unbelievably happy that Kobe finally has a ring to fully call his own.