No it isn’t Lakers versus Celtics. And no it isn’t LeBron versus Kobe. But this year’s finals still features two teams that play an entertaining style of basketball focused on offensive execution, team play and athleticism. There’s still plenty of star power with Kobe and Dwight Howard, even if The King has retreated to his summer palace. And arguably, these have been the best two teams over the grueling grind that is the NBA playoffs.
In preparation for a potentially epic Finals, The Crew’s Patrick M, Sam C and MZ are breaking down the match-ups and committing their predictions to cyberspace. Listen close and take notes.
Point Guard: Rafer Alston (12.7, 2.50, 4.4*) vs. Derek Fisher (7.1, 1.8, 2.4)
Jameer Nelson may give it a go, but I think the Magic would be wise to pull a Drew Bledsoe on his ass (for this year at least.) Skip To My Lou’s performance the last two rounds has been a hidden key to the Magic’s success. He played Rajon Rondo to a virtual draw and helped expose Mo Williams as more John Paxson than Scottie Pippen. The most important factor to his success? Focusing on getting the ball in the hands of Orlando’s more talented offensive creators in the frontcourt as opposed to trying to win the game himself.
Derek Fisher, meanwhile, provides all the savvy in a washed up old man that you love to hate, at your local playground. Unfortunately all the experience in the world can’t hide the fact that you can no longer shoot and aren’t quick enough to stay in front of young speedy guards. Alston, if he doesn’t turn into a playground pumpkin in the spotlight of the Finals, should dominate this match-up.
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee (8.8, 2, 1.6) vs. Kobe Bryant (29.6, 5.3, 4.9)
Kobe wins this match-up hands down. Courtney Lee is a scrappy player that’s developing into a potential star in the spotlight. While his emergence is noted he, like any other guard in the NBA, is not checking Bryant. He’s a decent defender, but Kobe feasts on guards that are shorter and less experienced. Lee fits that mold and will be exposed on both ends of the court by the Black Mamba. Look for Kobe to punish Lee with post-ups and drives to the lane.
Small Forward: Hedo Turkoglu (15.2, 4.5, 5.1) vs. Trevor Ariza (11.4, 3.7, 2.6)
The Magic are going to need a big series out of Turkoglu if they want any chance of winning this series. He’s increased his scoring average each round of the postseason and the more he scores takes pressure off of Howard and Lewis. Trevor Ariza should present a more difficult match-up based on height alone from last round. Yielding only 2 inches, Ariza will put a stop to those virtually uncontested jumpers Turkoglu became accustomed to last series. Still, Turkoglu should have an advantage on the offensive side thanks to Rashard Lewis pulling Pau Gasol out the lane, which will give Hedo more opportunities to drive to the hoop.
With Ariza being the fourth or fifth option, when the Lakers have the ball, the play of his teammates will dictate how well he does. He’ll get his looks when the Magic decide to double Kobe, and must cash them in order to make the Magic show some respect. Look for Turkoglu to win this match-up more out of necessity then on skill set alone.
Power Forward: Rashard Lewis (19.4, 6.1, 2.6) vs. Pau Gasol (18.2, 11.3, 2.6)
The key match-up to the Finals, and the most interesting. Both players are underrated, highly effective contributors to their team’s success, yet differ greatly in style and substance. Gasol has impeccable touch inside and can help control the boards without disrupting the Triange, while Lewis causes match-up fits with his ability to cash threes and take bigger slower guys off the dribble. Neither can really guard each other, although you would have to assume Howard will be switching onto Gasol for long stretches. Look for Gasol’s effectiveness on the offensive glass to be neutralized by Howard and for Lewis to at least make his mark from behind the arc, if not present quite the match-up nightmare he did last round.
Center: Dwight Howard (21.4, 15.7, 1.8) vs. Andrew Bynum (6.3, 3.6, 0.4)
C’mon now are you serious? This is another lop sided duel. Howard played the best ball of his life in the Eastern Conference Finals while Bynum still struggled with his knee problems. The only fair competition between these two will be the race to 6 fouls and Dwight might even win that standoff considering Kobe will live in the lane in the 4th.
The Benches: Orlando (31.5, 10.3, 6.4) Los Angeles (32.9, 18.2, 8.3)
Lamar Odom gives the Lakers an edge as the first guy off the bench. He’ll give starters minutes and will be expected to perform accordingly. Shannon Brown should continue to provide valuable time as well, but the rest of the Lakers bench has been unreliable thus far. For Orlando Anthony Johnson, Gortat, Pietrus and perhaps Jameer Nelson will be asked to provide quality minutes. Pietrus will more than likely be asked to slow down Kobe (or at least make his life difficult) while providing an offensive spark off the bench.
The difference between the two sides is the Lakers bench is expected more to maintain the lead or not lose too much of while the starters rest. The Magic bench is expected to be a key contributor every game and keep the pace going. If the games are close look for Orlando’s bench to have an edge, if the Lakers can get out to big leads than Los Angeles’ bench will play better.
The Coaches: Stan Van Gundy vs. Phil Jackson
The 9-time champion theoretically should be able to out Zen the previously maligned Van Gundy, who’s new to the NBA finals. Unfortunately for Lakers fans, as last year showed, coaching experience can be meaningless in the Finals. Doc Rivers had no problems leading his team over the Lakers and Jackson as a Finals neophyte a year ago, mostly because he had the veteran talent wearing his uniforms. As a young team, the Magic may have a little stage fright, but they’ve succeeded in hostile environments so far. It’d be foolish to assume anything should be different even on the biggest stage. Talent is what matters in the NBA, and no amount of Zen philosophy can change that.
Patrick M: The talent gap between the teams is small, with Orlando possibly having a slight advantage in depth if Jameer Nelson is able to contribute. But the Lakers have home court and, more importantly, the size to effectively counter the Magic’s biggest strength. Orlando’s lethal combination of rebounding, defense, and 3s in the frontcourt have been too much for its opponents thus far, but LA does have the horses to matchup.
They’ve also got a bunch of players who are notorious for showing up small in big moments. Even the Great Kobe has been terrible in the last two finals, and Bynum and Odom are nowhere near what you could call reliable or clutch. What this comes down to is Gasol, who this year has quietly stepped up big in both the regular season and playoffs, often being the Lake Show’s best player. He won’t be able to bang with Howard the whole time, but he’ll do enough to push LA over the top in what should be a classic showdown of two talented squads.
Lakers in 7.
MVP: Kobe Bryant
Sam C: I didn’t have faith in the Magic going into the Eastern Conference Finals and they made me look like a fool. The Cavs’ main issue was they didn’t have any other player that could guard Rashard or Hedo besides Lebron. The Lakers share that mismatch considering Ariza will keep up with Turkoglu while Pau will have to get out of the paint to guard Lewis’s perimeter game. That’ll free up the lane for Dwight Howard and co. to score.
The series will go 7 games because Kobe will get Dwight in foul trouble, opening the paint up for him to score and create. Pau will outmatch Lewis down low as well as on the offensive glass. Lamar Odom will be LA’s ace in the hole, guarding Hedo and Rashard off the bench. He’s mobile and lanky enough to slow them down to the point where LA will win some games.
Ultimately, I think the deciding factor will be the benches—Orlando’s bench is stronger and has a knack for finding wide open shots. This series will go down to the wire considering each team has, some incredible matchup advantages against the other. But Orlando gets the edge since they have more proficient scorers and can defend just as well as LA.
Magic in 7.
MVP: Dwight Howard
MZ: I really like to see Orlando win and it would be trendy of me to pick them like some genius. But when we started this, I picked the Lakers and I still feel confident in them. It took three future hall of famers to beat Kobe last year and he’s only more focused this year. He willed this team through the Conference Finals and is determined to get his ring to prove he can win without Shaq. So I’m sticking with my original prediction because the Lakers made it despite all their flaws and the bright light of the Finals will take its toll on Orlando.
Lakers in 6.
MVP : Kobe Bryant
* denotes playoff averages in order of points, rebounds and assits.
Previously Posted — TSS NBA Playoffs Preview: The Eastern Conference | TSS NBA Playoffs Preview: The Western Conference Finals | TSS NBA Playoffs Review: The Conference Semifinals |TSS NBA Playoffs Review: The First Round | TSS NBA Playoffs Preview: The Later Rounds | TSS NBA Playoffs Preview: The First Round