SJ's NBA Finals Preview: Do You Believe In Magic?

Jabber HeadSenior Analyst IMay 31, 2009

Do you believe in Magic? The Cavaliers and their fans do…now.

So much for the widely-anticipated Kobe vs LeBron series. The big question now is what will Nike do with all of those new Kobe-LeBron puppet commercials (which, by the way, are hilarious).

This should be an AMAZING Finals!

The Lakers are arguably the most talented team, top to bottom. However, they tend to play with sporadic and inconsistent energy. Seldom do they play hard for 48 minutes or from one game to the next. Their "bigs" are also a tad soft.

But when the Lakers do go all out for an entire game, as they did in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals, they are virtually unstoppable offensively and virtually impenetrable defensively.

"The Zen Master’s" Triangle Offense (actually it’s Tex Winters’) is a truly a force when properly executed. It requires a basketball-intelligent, deftly passing "big," and Pau Gasol fits that role perfectly. But of course, any offense works pretty well with "The Black Mamba" as the major player.

The Magic aren’t exactly on welfare talent-wise, either. Their starting five are all solid and are flat-out deadly offensively.

“Superman” stellarly patrols the middle defensively, and as he demonstrated in Game Six against the Cavs, he can score at a high level when guarded one-on-one and when the Magic guards remember to feed him the ball.

The Magic live and die by the "trey." This strategy, combined with the players and coaches not being "basketball Einsteins," precipitates the Magic blowing and coming back from big leads with great regularity.

On the positive side, if their "Making It Rain" with treys is cooking, they can take a huge lead, blow a team out, or make up a 20-point deficit in a heart beat. On the negative side, if those treys aren’t falling and/or they’re being launched on almost every possession in the 4th Q with 12-15 seconds left on each shot clock, the Magic will blow any-sized lead.

What to look for….

Lakers

Offense

Expect the Lakers to initially attempt to use their "bigs" plus Kobe to overwhelm Dwight Howard. "Superman" is a incredible defender, but the Lakers will test if he can stop the diversely skilled Gasol and hulking Bynum in the post, plus Kobe driving to the hole. Howard is foul-prone, hence the Lakers will attempt to force him to the bench early in games.

I expect the Lakers to run The Triangle per usual, but spread out their "bigs" more early in possessions to minimize the ability of Howard and the other Magic "bigs" from easily zoning the middle.

Of course, if/when the Lakers are behind late third-early fourth, the Triangle will go out of the geometry class and the offense will shift to “Take’em Kobe!”

Defense

The Lakers face a dilemma on D. The advantage that their multitude and average size of their "bigs" possess on offense becomes a liability on defense.

With the exception of Howard, the Magic’s "bigs" (Turkoglu, Lewis, Battie, and even Gortat at times) can be found offensively spreading and shooting from (effectively) all over the court. Neither Gasol or Bynum are effective defenders away from the basket. This will likely precipitate a heavy use of Lamar Odom who, even at 6'10", is agile and quick enough to stay with one of the Magic’s versatile forwards.

This may occur early in games anyway if Bynum is ineffective and/or gets in early foul trouble…both scenarios per his playoffs precedence. Trevor Ariza is an very good, athletic defender, but the Magic offense will test him. I think we’ll see more Lakers bench "Bigs" than usual, used to play “Hack-A-Howard” to reduce his dunkings and to put him on the line a lot where he struggles.

Key Players

"The Black Mamba" (as if that needed to be said), Gasol and Odom.

X-Factors

Ariza with his treys (or not), "hole-drives"/dunks, and D; Fisher finding his outside shot (or not); Vujacic (off the bench) keeping his prolific bombs somewhere in The Staples Center and Amway Arena.

Magic

Offense

After the second game of the Cavs series, the Magic shifted from their usual outside-in offense to an inside-out offense. They still continued and will continue to launch treys like crazy, but now they at least consider allowing Howard to touch the ball in the low post early in possessions.

As alluded to above, the ability of virtually every Magic player not named Dwight Howard to effectively shoot treys will cause the Lakers problems. Plus, Howard will exploit any one-on-one match-ups down low IF/when his guards find him. Turkoglu, Alston, and Pietrus will rain treys as usual.

Defense

Every Lakers’ opponent’s defensive strategy begins with “What the heck do we do with Kobe?”

Turkoglu et al couldn’t even slow-down LeBron and they won’t do so either with Kobe. Since Kobe is a guard and a tad shorter (6′7") and certainly less powerful than LeBron, I expect to see more of the Magic guards, especially Pietrus at 6′6", defending him, as opposed any "Bigs" chasing him around.

My expectation is that the Magic will attempt to force Kobe more into a facilitator role and then hope his supporting cast flops like LeBron’s bunch just did.

Key Players

"Superman" (who else?), Turkoglu, Alston

X-Factors

Pietrus and Lewis hitting (or not) their treys

PREDICTION

Both teams will win one game on the road. The Lakers will hoist the O’Brien Trophy at home…in Game Seven!

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