The NBA Finals get underway Thursday and will feature plenty of compelling storylines to watch as the series unfolds. NBA basketball is always about the matchups – lets take a look at how Lakers and Magic matchup in this series.
Kobe Bryant vs. Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus
The Black Mamba goes for his first title sans Shaq but has his work cut out for him against Mickael Pietrus. I’ve never seen anybody check LeBron as well as Pietrus did, and his size and athleticism will give Kobe trouble. Whether or not you think LeBron is a better player than Kobe, there is no question Kobe is a smarter offensive player and a much, much better shooter than LeBron.
Pietrus let LeBron shoot from the perimeter, something he cannot afford to do against Kobe, who is also a better post player than LeBron. I expect Bryant to have a big series.
Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat vs. Andrew Bynum
Superman looked brilliant against the Cavs, scoring on a variety of moves around the basket and hitting his free throws. The Lakers have no answer for Howard on the defensive end. Bynum has looked awful for the most part this postseason, and needs to attack Howard inside to stay on the floor.
The big key for Howard is staying out of foul trouble. He figures to guard Pau Gasol throughout the series. Gasol’s craftiness and ability to play in the high-post could create problems for the Magic. Marcin Gortat could get some run in the finals to keep Howard in the lineup.
Howard won’t dominate like he did in the Eastern Conference Finals, but clearly has the edge against the Lake Show.
Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton vs. Hedo Turkgolu
The Michael Jordan of Turkey (as Chris Webber likes to call Hedo) had his way against the Cavs – mainly because he was being defended by 6’2″ Delonte West. Things are about to change.
Turkgolu is really talented, but the Lakers can throw three defenders at him. Ariza is long and difficult to shoot over. Odom can be a great defender when he wants to and is actually an inch taller than the 6’9″ Turkgolu. Walton is strong and defended Carmelo Anthony better than any other Laker in the West Finals.
Rashard Lewis vs. Pau Gasol, Odom, Walton
Lewis had a big series against Cleveland because of matchups. Now, he faces an difficult task: Defend Pau Gasol. Although Howard figures to check Gasol for much of the series, Lewis will play Gasol at times. He is not big enough to battle inside against the Lakers, and doesn’t like to play physical.
Walton and Odom can shadow Lewis on the perimeter, making it difficult for him to get the kind of looks he got against Cleveland.
Odom’s scoring and rebounding could be the X-factor in the series
Rafer Alston, Anthony Johnson, Jameer Nelson vs. Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown
Alston played well against Cleveland, actually making some shots from the perimeter. I don’t expect his hot shooting to continue. Jameer Nelson’s return makes things complicated for Stan Van Gundy. He will face pressure to play Nelson even though he is far from ready to return.
Derek Fisher is nearing the end of the line. Anything he provides in this series is a bonus. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown will see plenty of action and have the ability to pressure Alston, Nelson, and Anthony Johnson.
Coaching and other intangibles
Stan Van Gundy has done a helluva job this postseason, but Phil Jackson is seeking a 10th NBA title. It might seem like Jackson does little actual coaching during games, but he has a supreme understanding of taking advantage of matchups.
Both teams have the potential to get road wins, so home court for the Lakers won’t be much of an advantage. The 2-3-2 format gives the edge to the Magic if it can steal one of the first two games in L.A.
The Magic won both meetings with the Lakers in the regular season, thanks in large part to Jameer Nelson’s 27.5 ppg. Both teams have a different look now, so the two Magic victories has little impact on the outcome of this series.
The Magic haven’t faced a team with the kind of balance and depth the Lakers have this postseason. If Gasol plays aggresively, I don’t think the Magic will be able to guard him. Howard may have won the defensive player of the year, but he has lapses defensively and isn’t a great 1-on-1 defender. Kobe won’t have many more chances to win a title, and I expect him to be huge in this series.
All games will be close, but I can’t see Orlando winning more than twice in this series. I like the Lakers in five games.
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