All the talk and hype about a Lebron-Kobe showdown is OVER and my darkhorse pick to get to the Finals detroyed Lebron’s Cavs this morning in very convincing fashion. Superman scored 40 points and went 12-16 from the line to trounce the Cavs and Lebron had his worst game this post-season. The “Magic upset” paved way to a very intriguing Finals match-up against the highly-touted Lakers in Staples next Thursday.
The Cavs were so favored in the Conference Finals series, they actually had majority of the NBA analysts saying they’d sweep the Magic. Give me a break. If you’re a Magic fan like I am, you know that it would be impossible for them to have done so. The world now knows how good this Magic team is and how much better this match-up is between them and the Lakers is compared to the Cavs.
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs (4) Orlando Magic
Let’s break this Final series down. In the regular season, the Magic beat the Lakers 2-0, 1 at home and 1 on the road. Does that record matter in the Finals? Unlike the Cavs series where the Magic had a better head-to-head record that also mattered this post-season, this one against the Lakers does not. In both games, Jameer Nelson scored a total of 55 points and burned the Lakers. He’s gone now and Rafer Alston isn’t going to be even close. Next, Trevor Ariza was an afterthought back then but now he’s a certified starter and is the X-factor for the Lakers winning the series altogether.
And with those two changes, it made the regular season record irrelevant. The Lakers became a much better team. They got stronger in defense with Ariza starting and he has also shown a ton of potential on the offensive end. Goodbye Vladimir Radmanovic. The Magic, on the other hand, lost a lot of scoring in the point but had Courtney Lee grow up right before our eyes and more importantly have Pietrus emerge as their X-factor in both ends also. So who DOES have the better team? Let’s break it down.
Point Guard: Derek Fisher (LAL) vs Rafer Alston (ORL)
Derek Fisher’s age is catching up with him, but he’s still got his touch from the outside. He’s had trouble defending faster and younger guards though and had to rely on a lot of help D from below to compensate.The problem is, the Lakers can ill-afford to have their bigs come out and guard opposing players with Dwight Howard on the inside. So Fisher has got to use his head and if Phil Jackson is as good a coach as he is, may want to post Fisher down low every now and then as Alston will definitely have his hands full if he’s posted.
The guy who burned the Lakers in their 2 regular season losses for 55 points is gone and has been replaced by the very streaky Rafer Alston. He is probably the most inconsistent Magic starter and is really going to be key to their success in the Finals. Alston’s playground style made a smooth transition to the run-and-gun Magic offense, but his inconsistent outside jumper may prove to be the difference in this series. Fisher won’t be able to match Alston’s speed going past him so let’s see how Rafer takes advantage of it. If he does, the Lakers will be in trouble.
Point Guard Advantage: EVEN
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant (LAL) vs Courtney Lee (ORL)
Is there anyone more dangerous with the ball than the Kobe in the post-season? Well, maybe Lebron James, but he’s gone now! Kobe has played amazing in the clutch in practically all the games that have gone down the wire and he looks to continue that against the Magic. Bryant is averaging a modest 26 points a game with 5 boards and 5 dimes in his usual all around performance. He scored a total of 69 points against the Magic in the two games but never saw Pietrus defend him yet. If it is any indication though, Kobe has taken all the great defenders down so it will be curious to see how Pietrus and Lee can alternately defend him for different looks.
Courtney Lee has been a silent assassin and has shot unbelievably well in the post-season. People often overlook the little things he does on court but he is a very under-rated defender and he’s also a surprisingly high-percentage shooter on the floor. The Magic wouldn’t be where they are at now without him as he has been instrumental in disrupting offensive patterns and playing pivotal defense against opposing teams . Let’s see how well he plays Kobe in this series but the bigger advantage is definitely with the Lakers superstar.
Shooting Guard Advantage: LAKERS
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza (LAL) vs Hedo Turkoglu (ORL)
If there is a player in the post-season who has stepped up his game from absolutely nowhere, it would be Trevor Ariza. He has been absolutely vital to the Laker’s success in the playoffs. Whoever thought a defensive specialist like Ariza had it in him to be such a potent offensive threat? Ariza shot a ton of threes against the Nuggets and doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down anytime soon. His confidence is sky-high and Phil Jackson has such confidence in his skills that he’s now a legitimate NBA player whose stock just went up a ton. His job now is to try and guard the 6’10 shooter from Turkey and everyone now knows how difficult a task that is.
Where have you seen a 6’10 guy who can play the point, slash to the lane, dish out 13 assists, and shoot the three from anywhere? I would say Dirk, but he doesn’t dish out dimes like Hedo nor does he play point guard. This guy is amazing and is a nightmare for opposing coaches and defenders. The Magic can play big and have Turkoglu play point and the Lakers won’t be able to do a thing about it. The problem is, he’s been waxing on and off in the playoffs but he’s no stranger to pressure. If Hedo goes off against the Lakers, it is going to be a series that will go down the wire and the Magic can actually steal this one.
Small Foward Advantage: MAGIC
Power Forward: Pau Gasol (LAL) vs Rashard Lewis (ORL)
What a match-up in the power forward position. Two of my favorite players go head-to-head and it’s going to be great. Gasol has been the most consistent Laker this post-season and plays so solid you sometimes shake your head at how he gets off his shake and bake moves then shoot a fade-away that just swishes the net. Gasol is a very under-rated defender and was really the force that took out the Nuggets as they had no answer for him both offensively and defensively. It will be a tough match-up if Rashard needs to guard Pau as he has too many post moves and he can get Lewis in foul trouble. If that happens it will spell trouble for the Magic as they lose a vital piece of the offensive push.
Rashard Lewis is one of the best shooters in the NBA and he is a legitimate superstar in this league. He shoots the three the same way 1 minute into a game and 5 seconds to close out a game and it’s unbelievable. He has a swagger in him that is never arrogant and he gets the job done every single game. He’s also 6’10 and is another nightmare for opposing teams because their power forwards and centers need to run out and guard him out in the perimeter because he is deadly out there. So it will be interesting to see how the Lakers play Rashard because they haven’t found the solution to that puzzle yet.
Power Forward Advantage: LAKERS
Center: Andrew Bynum (LAL) vs Dwight Howard (ORL)
If there is a series Bynum will be needed, it will be in this one against Dwight Howard. If you’re talking big man to big man, Bynum can definitely match-up well with Dwight and that’s on straight-up D. But with his nagging injury, he might need a lot of help coming from their others bigs so I see the Lakers come in with Lamar Odom more against the Magic. If Bynum can find it in himself to at least concentrate on D, he will be very valuable in stopping Superman. But if he continues to shoot fade-away jumpers like he has all post-season long, the Lakers might have a better chance playing Josh Powell, seriously.
What more can you say about Dwight Howard? He scored 40 points and went 12-16 from the line in a series-closer against the Cavs and he looks to build on it and take it all the way. The great thing about it is that he believes it and so do all his teammates. Dwight will need to shoot freethrows the way he did today as he is going to be fouled many times and he will need to prove himself every single game in the Finals. If Howard can hit above the 70% range consistently, the Magic are going to be so hard to stop. Now all he has to do is keep his fouls in check and he will dominate the paint all series long.
Center Advantage: MAGIC
Bench: Lamar Odom/Jordan Farmar (LAL) vs Mickael Pietrus/Anthony Johnson (ORL)
Who has a deeper bench? Definitely the Lakers have an advantage here. They have the very versatile Lamar Odom come off the bench and he is the closest a player can get to Turkoglu without the sharp shooting from the outside. If the real Odom decides to show up in the series, the Magic will have their hands full as Turkoglu is not really a good defender. Another key for the Lakers is for ANYONE from their bench stepping up as Farmar and Vujacic have been utterly useless. So the Lakers in reality have an 8-man rotation which will extend to 9 or 10 for sure as their bigs will get in foul trouble against Dwight Howard.
Whose on the other side? Pietrus has been a revelation in the playoffs and has been on fire. He’s such a catch because he plays amazing D and yet he’s able to hit threes like they were 15 footers. He will be the key to the Magic’s success as he is vital to their defense against Kobe. I think the Magic have a pretty decent bench too as guys like Redick, Johnson, and Gortat will be important against the Lakers. I think JJ will get minutes against the Lakers as well as Gortat as the Lakers are huge down low. I doubt the Magic want Rashard to be guarding Pau much less Andrew Bynum.
BENCH Advantage: LAKERS
On paper, the Lakers have a slight advantage and they actually have what it takes to neutralize Howard with their 4 bigs. That’s a total of 24 fouls to batter Superman with, not to mention these bigs can all play. Powell is solid and Mbenga is going to be tough if it comes down to having to use their fourth center. But the Magic also have the manpower in trying to defend Kobe as well. So it’s all going to come down to who steps up other than the two superstars. If the Lakers can get Odom and Ariza to play great, they will win this series in 5. But if the Magic can get Pietrus and Lee playing the way they did against the Cavs, they might actually have a chance!
PICK: Out on a limb, Magic in 7!