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Bhavik DarjiCorrespondent IMay 31, 2009

It's in the books.

The 2008-2009 NBA finals will start in Los Angeles, California, after Dwight Howard's 40 point performance helped the Magic beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and advance to the NBA finals for the first time in 14 years.

"We believe we're contenders,'' Jameer Nelson said after a win against L.A. "The naysayers say we're not. This means a lot. I think it's a statement game. It shows we're serious and we're contenders for the East.''

Now starts the sequel to the NBA Playoffs, the NBA Finals.

In which should be a very entertaining matchup, both teams will try to take the early advantage by either stealing home court, or keeping it.

The Lakers are looking in much better shape, even going the distance against the Rockets and having to be tested by the Denver Nuggets. They have a healthy Andrew Bynum, who has been producing well. Trevor Ariza has been the X-factor for the Lakers all season and postseason long.

The former Magic player that was involved in the trade to bring Brian Cook and Maurice Evans to the Magic has been nothing but spectacular. Last year, they didn't have the luxury of having Ariza at his full potential as he broke his foot in mid-January.

Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers head coach said it did not matter who the Lakers team faced.

"The only thing that makes a difference is if it's Orlando, we make one road trip in this setup," Jackson said after Friday's victory.

One road trip is only needed at the NBA Finals due to the setup, which is different from the NBA playoffs. Instead of having a 2-2-1-1-1 format, the NBA Finals has a 2-3-2 format. This could possibly give the advantage to the Magic if they steal home court against the Lakers.

To top if off the Magic beat the Lakers twice in both of their meetings, winning by a combined nine points, in Orlando and Los Angeles respectively.

Both teams can make a tie to one another.

The first time Orlando made their first ever appearance in the NBA Finals was in 1995, when they had Shaquille O'Neal. The Lakers made their first Finals appearance since, 1990-91, when they had Shaquille O'Neal.

The Magic have not been to the finals since Shaq left, until yesterday. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have not won a championship without Shaq, and Kobe will try to do everything to change that.

Both Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu should have problems with Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza. Unlike the Cleveland series, Lewis and Turkoglu now have people that can matchup with them. The Magic still made 12 three-pointers in both of the games against the Lakers, so I'm optimistic on that part.

The battle of the centers should be interesting as Howard will dominate Andrew Bynum on the offensive end, but who will stop Gasol? From their previous matchups, Gasol has only averaged 12 PPG, eight rebounds, and shot 40 percent from the stripe playing 37.5 MPG.

I don't expect Gasol to repeat his performance of last years finals against Kevin Garnett. He will probably struggle for the first two to three games, but will find a weakness and use it, like he did with the Denver Nuggets.

It is possible that Howard will switch onto Gasol as Lewis is not big or strong enough to contain him and his jump hooks.

One major thing that can change the outcome of this series is that the Magic don't have Nelson in the series, but they did in the season against the Lakers. Against the Lakers, Nelson put up 27.5 PPG on 58 percent shooting from the field! Now that's insane.

Who is going to make up for that large chunk of points though? Alston, against the Lakers this year has only averaged nine PPG on 34 percent shooting and below 30 percent from beyond the arc.

Some Laker fans have said its going to be a sweep, I whole heartedly, disagree. The Magic will be tough, especially if Nelson comes back...I'll save that for another day.


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