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Beginning or Cementing a Legacy: Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard

Benjamin BaroffCorrespondent IJune 3, 2009

As many good story lines that would have came out of a LeBron vs. Kobe finals, there is still enough star power to carry this series.  

Aside from the Magic and Lakers clearly being the two best teams in basketball, they carry along with them two of the five best players in the league.

Kobe Bryant is the don and LeBron is the apprentice, but in between, there is Dwight Howard.  

While Howard is not the complete package just yet, he has before our eyes developed into a leader this postseason, and is on the brink of becoming the next Shaq in the NBA.

Thats right, I went there: The next Shaq.

Howard has the potential to not only put up monstrous (Shaq-like numbers) but carry the you can't guard me, you can't double me, you can't stop me image. 

Dwight Howard has averaged 21 points 14 rebounds and 3 blocks a game in each of the past two seasons, while being the greatest defensive force in the league. 

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Those numbers have increased to 22/15/2 this postseason as Howard has led the Magic to their first NBA finals appearance since Shaq did so in 1995.  

While the Magic have shot the lights out (47 percent) this postseason, Howard has been the deciding factor in every decisive playoff game.  Lets take a look. 

Game Five vs. Philadelphia (2-2) - Howard puts a strangle hold on the series with an outstanding 24 points and 24 rebounds, gets suspended in the process and the Magic cruise in game six.

Game Six vs. Boston (3-2 Celtics) - Howard puts up instead of shuts up after calling out Van Gundy after a game five fourth-quarter meltdown with 23 points 22 rebounds 3 blocks and a +10 +/- ratio. The Magic go on to cruise in game seven at Boston which is almost unheard of.

Game Six vs. Cleveland (3-2 Magic) - Howard plays the best game of his career putting up 40 and 14 in a must win for the Magic perplexing them to the NBA finals which was almost unthinkable after fellow all-star Jameer Nelson went down in February. 

All of this after all the talk about Howard disappearing in the playoffs in his career. It's almost as if a UFO just flew across the sky and everybody said "did you guys see that!"

So far Dwight Howard has simply been the lovable fan favorite for his dunking ability and otherworldly physical physique. 

Nobody saw Dwight Howard coming into his own just yet. Just admit it, you didn't. He's ahead of schedule and he truly is where amazing is happening right now.  

If Dwight Howard can carry the Magic to an NBA championship at the age of 23 over Kobe Bryant and a deeper Lakers team, he will not only earn his spot among the leagues elite, he will begin a legacy that has not only hall-of-fame potential, but that comparable to the greats of all-time. 

Did I mention Kobe Bryant?

The time has finally come. Last year the Lakers were one year away, and now they are ready. Phil is ready, Pau is ready, even Lamar Odom is ready.

Last year, the Lakers ran into a Celtics team that was simply destiny since the bombshell dropped on ESPN that Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston. 

Kobe is more focused than ever and is playing out of this world right now again...again. 

If Kobe finally gets the Shaq monkey off his back, he will jump into the four-plus-title group where no other shooting guard compares to the talent, accolades, and rate of achievement as Kobe.  

Kobe will cement his legacy as the second greatest shooting guard of all-time at the age of 30 and if the Lakers are able to keep a team of this caliber around him for the next three seasons the chances of him winning again are very, very good.  

Kobe has to win No. 4 before we talk about five, but five!? Is that Jordan territory yet? 

Kobe is as close to Jordan as it gets, ever. Nobody else even comes close to being as close to Jordan as it gets yet. LeBron is a ring away which is mind boggling that it may only take one ring. 

Same style, same intensity, same pure stroke.

Same hang time, same leadership, same trash talking.

Kobe is one of the best two-way players ever at any position, he has the best jump shot in the game and is far and above the best closer we've seen since Jordan and maybe other than Jordan.  

His performance against the Nuggets spoke for itself.  In a series swaying game three Kobe drops 41 including a stop talking after every jumpshot I just won the game in your face three pointer to JR. Smith (yes, that's JR., not J.R.).

Then a game-six performance that rivaled Lebron's triple double the night before. Thirty-five points 10 assists and extreme efficiency (+31 +/-) all with ease. 

Three times this postseason that Kobe has not led the Lakers in scoring and six times he did not lead the team in assists. 

Kobe has mastered all facets of the game and is still getting better.  

He is the best all around player in the NBA since Jordan and is truly the first challenger to MJs throne. 

If Kobe can get No. 4 without Shaq, we may start to rethink who was the greater asset to that magical three-peat the Lakers had.  

Last year's title was reserved for the big three and this year's title is reserved for Kobe.  

It would almost be bittersweet to see the Magic win. 

After this years finals we will see a legacy. 

Will it be beginning or cemented?

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