NBA Finals Preview

Finally, the moment is here.  Seven months after the season began, we are down to the final two teams.  Representing the west, the Los Angeles Lakers.  From the east, the Orlando Magic. 

The Lakers were favored by money to make it back to the Finals after losing in last years Finals to the Boston Celtics.  The Magic played the underdog role on their way to this point having beaten the Celtics and Cavaliers to get here.  Both of those teams finished with better records than Orlando in the regular season.

Orlando has gotten here led by the play of Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard along with some deadly three point shooting from Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.

The Lakers are led by former MVP and three time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, the solid play of All-Star Pau Gasol and the surprising three point shooting accuracy of forward Trevor Ariza.

I look for Orlando to run the ball inside through Howard.  Lakers head caoch Phil Jackson has already said that he would prefer not to leave Orlando’s three point shooters alone in favor of double teaming Howard.  This will force Bynum to have to step up his game on the defensive end by guarding Howard one on one. 

If Bynum can stay out of foul trouble, the Lakers will have taken away a big part of Orlando’s offensive game plan.  If Bynum gets into early foul trouble, the Lakers will move the less physical Gasol over to center to guard Howard.  With the energy that Gasol will have to use on the defensive end, it likely will take away from his production on the offensive end.

Look for the Lakers to exploit their advantage at the shooting guard position with Kobe Bryant as neither Mickael Pietrus nor Courtney Lee should be able to effectively guard him.  Lebron James averaged over 38 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists against Orlando.  That tells me that Kobe should be able to have his way offensively.  James was able to do his damage with no one on his supporting cast that could draw defenses.  Bryant simply has more weapons with which to work.    

I also look for Bryant to follow the blue print that James laid out in the previous round and take the ball right at the basket, looking to draw contact and get Howard into foul trouble.  While Orlando’s back up center Marcin Gortat is a very capable player, he is not in the class of Howard and the Lakers would be at a tremendous advantage.

Orlando did beat the Lakers twice in their only two regular season match ups.  I believe that does count for something and that will give the Magic a tremendous boost of confidence heading into this series.  However, these two teams played their last game in February.  Certain factors have changed since then.

A big key in both Orlando victories was the play of point guard Jameer Nelson.  Nelson caused the Lakers problems with his quickness and outside shooting scoring a combined 55 points against the Lakers in the two games. 

 On February 19, he suffered what was at the time considered a season ending surgery.  According to the latest reports, he will be activated in the series but it is undetermined how many minutes that he will play.  Nelson not being 100 percent is a huge loss for Orlando.

For the Lakers, small forward Trevor Ariza has become a legitimate threat on the offensive end hitting over 55 percent of his shots including an outstanding 50 percent of his shots from behind the three point line. 

The Lakers already had three scorers in Bryant, Gasol, and Odom before these playoffs were underway.  Ariza giving them a fourth scorer is huge and makes them even tougher to guard on the defensive end.  Most importantly, it keeps defenses honest against Bryant and makes it easier for him to work.

The single biggest factor for the Lakers will be the play of Lamar Odom.  He will be coming off the bench but will be playing starters minutes.  If he plays the way he did in Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference Finals, there is no doubt that the Lakers will be the ones holding up the trophy.  He is a better defensive match up against Lewis and if Odom gets things going offensively he should be able to use his size to his advantage.  If Odom allows Lewis to be an effective three point shooter and fails to take advantage of him on the defensive end, the Lakers will be in trouble. 

Orlando is a very good team and will provide a great challenge to the Lakers.  When I look at the two teams I see one that is happy to be here in Orlando while Los Angeles looks like they’re on a mission to redeem themselves from last years loss. 

 Bryant looks as focused as any competitor as I have ever seen.  He knows that a fourth ring would cement his legacy and would finally get the monkey off his back of not being the leader on a championship team.  When he is this focused and determined, it’s hard to pick against him.

My prediction:  Lakers in six

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