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Why the Orlando Magic Will Beat The Los Angeles Lakers

Josh Brewer@AlwaysBrewingCorrespondent IMay 31, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 30: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic drives to the hoop against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 Playoffs at Amway Arena on May 30, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. 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 Scott Audette-Pool/Getty Images)

The 2009 NBA Finals were set before the playoffs began, in the minds of many. Kobe Bryant would lead his Los Angeles Lakers into battle against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that was that.

King James and Kobe were supposed to square off for the title of NBA Alpha Dog and the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Then, Superman stepped in and changed everything.

Instead of LeBron and the Cavs, it is Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic set to go head-to-head with the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

This series won't be what most pundits will say it is. Orlando is the perfect storm—much like an under-the-radar team driving through the NCAA tournament. Clicking at the right time is huge, and as long as the Magic continues to click, the Larry O'Brien Trophy will head to Orlando for the first time.

Nobody gave the Magic a chance against the Cavs. Most said LeBron would be too much for the Magic to handle. Those same people said Orlando's lack of a true superstar couldn't lead them to the title, especially with Cleveland standing in the way.

Orlando throttled the Cavs in six games. Howard came into his own, announcing his superstar status with 40 points in Orlando's Eastern Conference Finals-clinching victory. So much for the lack of a true superstar.

Cleveland's bigs aren't much to write home about. Los Angeles' Pau Gasol has played well throughout the playoffs, but he's done it against lesser talent. Denver has no inside presence to speak of, Houston didn't have Yao Ming for the majority of their series against the Lakers, and both teams gave Los Angeles trouble.

The NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year will give Gasol fits in the middle. Howard is more physical, stronger, and his defense is clearly superior.

Orlando has no problem shutting down superstars. They curtailed James in the East Finals, and James is actually willing to drive. Stan Van Gundy would be well advised to keep Mickael Pietrus on the floor and in Kobe Bryant's face as much as possible. Bryant doesn't drive much anymore, meaning Pietrus' smothering defense could be the difference in this series.

Orlando's Rafer Alston has been a true gift to Orlando's run. His ability to create plays and hit jumpers has fueled a team that heavily relied on Howard and Hedo Turkoglu for scoring.

The wild card in this series is the match-up between Los Angeles' Lamar Odom and Orlando's Rashard Lewis. Orlando's biggest problems may come from Odom, especially if Lewis disappears like he has at points during the Magic's playoff run.

If the Lakers can shut down Alston, Turkoglu, Howard, and Pietrus, all the while creating open shots for Bryant and open lanes for Gasol, Los Angeles will celebrate yet another world championship. That situation seems more like a keep-your-fingers-crossed event instead of one that is actually likely, though.

Look for the Magic to continue playing the game that has given opponents fits throughout the playoffs. The Lakers won't play the one-on-five game the Cavs did, but the Lakers will need to rely heavily on Bryant with Howard taking Gasol out of games.

As long as Howard continues his torrid play, Orlando will take home the title. Howard has only heated up the deeper the Magic has progressed in the playoffs.

The stage is set and the lights are shining as bright as ever. Dwight Howard will announce his arrival as the league's preeminent big man as the Magic upset the Lakers in six games.

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