Can the Magic make the Lakers disappear?
Vail, CO Colorado
It’s finally June, and that means the NBA Finals are right around the corner. After three grueling rounds of battle spanning six long weeks, the dust has settled, leaving two teams set to face off for the NBA championship, starting Thursday.
From the West, the Los Angeles Lakers awoke from a lazy second-round performance to put Denver away in six games and advance to their record 30th NBA Finals. In the East, the Orlando Magic put on a dominating performance against the top-seeded Cavaliers to shock the league and advance to their second Finals.
While the NBA is certainly disappointed there will not be a Kobe-versus-LeBron series for the championship ” the league created multiple advertising campaigns centered around this matchup ” this Lakers-Magic series should be no slouch. Here’s a closer look at what to expect as these two franchises battle for the title.
Breaking down the teams
In the two regular-season meetings between the Lakers and Magic, Orlando went 2-0. However, the two victories came by a just nine points combined and both were played before injury to Orlando’s All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson. While Nelson’s replacement, Rafer Alston, has played very well as a replacement starter and Nelson may just be able to return to play limited minutes in this series, the Magic will certainly miss the production they received from him before his four-month absence.
Alston will be asked to step up and be a scorer to help Orlando keep up with L.A.’s high octane offense.
Expect the Lakers make a change to their starting lineup from the previous round; Lamar Odom, who played well late in the West finals, should replace Andrew Bynum to match up better with the shooting, slashing styles of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.
Pau Gasol will likely be given the challenging task of guarding Orlando center Dwight Howard, though Howard should see plenty of double teams.
Gasol will have a limited impact in this series because his lanky build will keep him from slowing Howard on the defensive end and scoring consistently against Howard on the offensive end. Bynum will likely be used to spell Gasol when Howard remains in the game.
When looking at starting lineups on the court, I have to give the Magic the edge to take the lead early in games. They’ve got four legitimate 3-point shooters in Turkoglu, Alston, Lewis, and Courtney Lee as well as the most dominant big man in the game today in Howard.
The size and versatility of Lewis and Turkoglu should keep Odom and Trevor Ariza, two very good defenders, with their hands full. The Lakers have just two reliable scorers, in Kobe Bryant and Gasol, and three wild cards in Odom, Ariza, and Derek Fisher.
However, Los Angeles holds a clear advantage on the bench, where it can get instant contributions from Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar. Orlando has just two major contributors from the bench in Marcin Gortat, who spells Howard at center, and Mickael Pietrus, who may be used to guard Bryant when Orlando finds itself leading in the fourth quarter.
Orlando’s advantages in the starting lineup and Los Angeles’ advantages on the bench should generally balance out, meaning this series should be very tight much of the way though.
That leaves the edge in the series to the team with the best closer, who, as we all know, is the ultimate assassin, Kobe Bryant.
While I certainly don’t expect Bryant to carry the Lakers to an easy series victory, I can’t see Turkoglu or Lewis out-shining Bryant late in games enough times to bring the Magic a championship. No doubt, this series will be decided in six or seven games, but I believe this Lakers team is too talented to let this golden opportunity to slip away.
They are now exhibiting the motivation necessary to win it all, and Kobe is surely ready to win his first title without Shaquille O’Neal at his side.
Lakers in seven.
Davey DeChant, a recent graduate of Battle Mountain High School, breaks down the NBA Playoffs for the Vail Daily. In the fall, he will be attending journalism school at Northwestern University.