By Ron Jumper
So the NBA Finals are here and it is the underdog Orlando Magic trying to shock the world for the 3rd round in a row, with the Los Angeles Lakers standing in their way this time around. The Lakers were in the finals just last season, they’ve been here before with Kobe and Phil five times now. However, that was the case last year and the Celtics still cut down the nets. The Magic also won both games in the regular season against the Lakers. Is that relevant now that they are meeting up in the finals?
Well, a lot has changed since then…
For starters, Jameer Nelson was playing and he lit up Derek Fisher in both matchups, scoring 27.5 point a game in the two meetings. Reports have surfaced that he might play, but he would only be a fraction of himself since he hasn’t played in forever.
Rafer Alston has come in and the offense has a different look to it. Alston isn’t the scorer that Nelson is, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a huge part of why the Magic have been successful this postseason. He has still provided timely scoring and clutch shooting in big moments. You heard how Mo Williams struggled and LeBron had no help, etc. Well, Williams wasn’t just missing layups and wide open shots, Alston played good defense as well. For the playoffs, Alston is averaging 12.7 points and 4.4 assists, which is solid production, but the 1.6 steals and 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio are outstanding.
Something that intrigues me about this series is how will the Lakers approach defending Howard? Will they make him earn it at the foul line? If the Lakers do go that route, will they extend the rotation any? The Lakers have Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom inside, after that it is guys like Josh Powell and D.J. Mbenga who haven’t played relevant minutes in weeks.
Howard averaged just over 11 free throws a game against Cleveland (13 per game if you exclude just the two attempts he had in game one). If Howard does that against the Lakers, is there any way for Bynum or Gasol to avoid foul trouble? Gasol is more important than Bynum, as Gasol has played heavy minutes for the Lakers in this playoff run. When they start Bynum at center and Gasol at power forward, Gasol usually stays in the game when Lamar Odom comes in and he then slides to the center position. He almost doesn’t come out of the game, playing between 42 and 45 minutes in close games. Foul trouble for Gasol would be a huge blow to the Lakers.
On the flip side, looking at Boston and Cleveland’s big men, they didn’t make Howard work on defense. Howard was free to roam the lane and block shots when he was guarding either Kendrick Perkins or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Against Pau Gasol, Howard has to devote effort to guarding his man and can’t just guard the rim. Mark it down now, whoever’s big men get to the free throw line more and stay out of foul trouble will have a substantial advantage in this series.
The Celtics and Cavs didn’t have anyone capable of matching up with Rashard Lewis when he played power forward against them. I believe Lamar Odom can matchup with Lewis inside and out, taking away a key mismatch that the Magic have exploited throughout the playoffs. I’m not saying Odom will lock down Lewis, not by a longshot. However, keeping him from posting up smaller players or from taking big guys out on the perimeter will limit the ways Orlando can attack you and break down the defense.
So who wins?
Lakers (-260) over the Orlando Magic (in 6): WIN
**Daily ATS and Total plays posted below
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers showed me something Friday night when they closed out the Nuggets in Denver. I think this team has come together and is playing championship basketball. Pau Gasol is playing great, Lamar Odom has been more consistent, and Trevor Ariza is emerging as a bright young star before our eyes.
I know the Magic won both meetings in the regular season, but that was with Jameer Nelson in the lineup. Looking at the rosters now, I think the Lakers can stop the Magic’s weapons better than the Magic can stop the Lakers’ weapons. I expect Ariza to limit Hedo Turkoglu from getting many clean looks and for Pau Gasol to step up big. Obviously, I see Kobe playing well but he will get his whether they win or lose so it is definitely more about everyone else stepping up. Dwight Howard has emerged as the best center in the game, but I don’t see it being enough to win the NBA championship. The Magic will gain valuable experience from this playoff run and be back in the thick of things in the years to come.
Magic/Lakers Over 206 Loss
Lakers ML –270 WIN
Magic/Lakers Under 203 WIN
Lakers -6.5 Loss
Lakers/Magic Under 199 Loss
Lakers +4.5 WIN
Lakers/Magic Under 201.5 WIN
Lakers +3 WIN
Lakers/Magic Under 199 WIN
Magic -3 Loss