The NBA Finals Is Not the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard Show: Five Keys to the Title

Coach SamuelContributor IJune 2, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 27:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 27, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The 2009 NBA Finals will not be solely determined by its superstars, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. This series will be a contest of styles and matchups. The team that is successful in imposing its will can become the 2009 NBA Champions.

Five Keys to The 2009 NBA Finals.

1. Pau Gasol vs. Rashard Lewis

Rashard Lewis is 6’10” tall but plays like a guard, while Pau Gasol has one of the best offensive post-up games in the league.

This will be a serious mismatch for both teams when they are on the offensive side of the court. The Lakers want to slow the game down and allow Gasol to take advantage of Lewis on the block. If they can do this, Lewis and the Magic will have a long series.

Orlando, on the other hand, wants to keep the game up-tempo and force Gasol to play Lewis on the perimeter. Gasol will be overmatched and too slow to stay with Lewis.

Expect the Magic to play Tony Battie a lot more this series to counter this mismatch. Likewise, the Lakers will have to go small more with Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom on the court together.

It will be very interesting to see who wins this battle of wills and ultimately this series.

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2. What defensive strategy will Phil Jackson implore against Dwight Howard?

If he chooses to allow Bynum to go straight up, look for Bynum to get into foul trouble early, which will leave Gasol to guard Howard. That will also cause Gasol to get into foul trouble.

The Lakers may choose to double Howard and leave Orlando’s dangerous three-point shooters open. The Magic hit more than 40 percent of their threes against Cleveland, but the Lakers are longer and should be able to better contest Orlando’s three-point attempts.

Look for the Lakers to implore the double-team with Kobe leaving Courtney Lee and gamble on the percentages.

3. Dwight Howard’s free-throw shooting

Superman raised his free throw percentage to 70 percent on 67 trips to the line in the Eastern Conference Finals after shooting just 59 percent during the regular season. If Howard continues to knock down his free throws at this rate, the Magic will be very tough to beat. It will be very tough for the Lakers to waste fouls on Bynum and Gasol if Howard is making them pay “double.”

4. Will Kobe stick with his strategy of getting everyone involved or will he be too eager to win a ring and try to do too much?

So far Kobe has been trusting his teammates and they have stepped up. He will get a steady dose of Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee this series. He will be tempted to take over the game and quiet all his "can’t win without Shaq" detractors.

5. The Orlando Magic must conquer the “big stage” once again

So far Dwight Howard’s humongous shoulders have been more than able to carry that “chip” this Magic team has been able to use to prove themselves. First, against the defending champion Celtics, then against the “anointed one,” and now against the Mighty Lakers.

When it’s all said and done, the Lakers will use their hunger and experience to capture their 15th NBA Championship.

Coach’s prediction—Lakers in seven.

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