Andrew Thell, Writer, Editor, and Co-Founder
I’m a little tired of being the guy that doubts this Orlando Magic squad only to see them topple opponent after opponent and exceed expectations. I’m a believer in this team. They’re good. Very good. They’ve earned their trip to the NBA Finals with stellar play throughout the regular season and postseaon. So instead of simply describing how I see them losing this time around, I’ll lay out two scenarios followed by my actual prediction.
The Orlando Magic Topple the Los Angeles Lakers: Mickael Pietrus plays like a true difference maker on both ends, bodying up on Kobe Bryant and frustrating him into ill-advised shots and passes. He also gets hot from outside, forcing Kobe and Ariza to stay honest on him at the perimeter. Meanwhile, Dwight dominates the meek Los Angeles big men, consistently getting Andrew Bynum in foul trouble and forcing the weaker Pau Gasol to expend a bulk of his energy playing man defense. Los Angeles is forced to turn to Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga to play more minutes than they ever wanted to.
This all plays into the Magic’s hands, as so much attention is drawn inside on both offense and defense that LA cannot execute their intricate sets or fluent team play. It leaves Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu free to roam in the perimeter, to either knock down key shot after key shot or slice to the lane for easy buckets or free throws. Rafer Alston steps up to the big stage, making the defensively challenged and offensively limited Los Angeles points a liability. As the Lakers dare him to shoot night after night he consistently makes them pay. Orlando manages to steal one of the first two games in LA as the Lake Show simply doesn’t show up (again), then holds serve in their three home games, winning in five.
The Los Angeles Lakers Win Their 15th NBA Title: The Lakers come out and play the way we all know they’re capable of. They play like the only team in the NBA to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency rating. They execute on offense with deadly efficiency, coming out of the gate poised and aggressive. Their clean execution and multitude of scorers on offense are simply too much for Orlando to handle, as their crisp passing and disciplined approach consistently finds open jumpers on the weak side and the interior offense attacks Dwight Howard’s backside.
Pau Gasol continues to hold his own on the glass, finishing with double-digit rebounds in each Lakers win. Andrew Bynum steps up to the challenge and bodies up on Dwight Howard, making him look like simply an All Star rather than the generational talent he is. On the outside Trevor Ariza is able to stick with Turkogou and Lewis while leading the series in steals and continuing to hit over half of his field-goal attempts, including key open makes from downtown. The Lake Show’s trio of points each bring something to the table, with Derek Fisher hitting timely, open threes, Jordan Farmar simply running the offense when called upon and Shannon Brown attacking the rim in dramatic fashion.
Meanwhile, Kobe stands back like the field general he is, watching it all and stepping up each night with what his team needs — be it 40 points, 10 assists or simply solid perimeter defense.
It’s obviously going to be a little from Column A, a little from Column B. But in the end, superior talent, depth and experience win out.
Prediction: Lakers in 5.
Brian Spencer, Writer, Editor, and Co-Founder
The Orlando Magic have played the “we don’t get any respect” card to their advantage as beautifully as the Detroit Pistons did during their successful run over the past half-decade. Despite a strong 59-23 regular-season record, few took them seriously coming into the playoffs (including yours truly), but all they’ve done is close out the defending champion Boston Celtics on the road in Round 2 and rather easily dispatch of the championship favorite Cleveland Cavaliers in a tidy six games. They’re humming, and they’re hungry.
The current incarnation of the Lakers have been here before–last year, to be exact. Some players are performing at a higher level now (Gasol, Ariza), while others have regressed (Bynum, Vujacic). The inconsistency has been well-documented during these playoffs, but when they’re on, this is probably the most complete team in the league. Their last effort, Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, may have been their most dominant one, but that’s not necessarily an indicator of, well, anything. They’re that unpredictable.
Matchups, experience (or lack thereof), depth, coaching–it all arguably boils down to a wash, or at least close to a wash. What this series may just come down to is this: which team wants it more, and which team is best equipped to handle the pressure? This feels a bit premature for Orlando, just like it did for Cleveland back in ’07. As you know, Cleveland lost that series to the San Antonio Spurs 4-0.
Prediction: Lakers in 6.
ETB’s distinguished contributing writers weigh in on the 2009 NBA Finals after the break…
Brendan K. O’Grady, Contributing Writer
Interestingly, only now have we come to apply the same lazy logic to the Magic that was used to decry an “underachieving” Lakers squad not two rounds ago; namely, the axiomatic “truth” that “they win because they’re tall.”
Lots of teams take a lot of threes. But the Magic convert on so many so frequently (enabling Stan Van Gundy to build an offense around his interchangeable perimeter shooters) primarily because they’re tall. No amount of “smart” (Kobe Bryant), “long” (Lamar Odom) or “athletic” (Trevor Ariza) defense is going to effectively challenge Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu when they’ve got a look. The pieces surrounding the Defensive Player of the Year should make Orlando a very, very dangerous squad, and especially to a team as seemingly vulnerable as LA.
But this isn’t like any matchup either LA or Orlando saw from their conference foes. The Magic aren’t going to rely on pushing the pace to throw the Lakers out of their own offense (a la the Nuggets), and LA arguably saw better benches from Houston and Denver than they’ll face from the Magic. As much as was made of the nightmares Orlando posed for the Cavs undersized perimeter players, the Lakers’ once-vaunted frontcourt really needs only to contend with one significant issue: scoring around Dwight Howard. Nobody else on the Magic roster is going to stop Kobe, Pau Gasol and (occasionally) Odom from putting up points when the ball/players are moving properly in a well-executed triangle.
Not to grossly oversimplify Orlando’s offense, but if they’re going to win, that generally means two things need to happen: the shots have to fall and Dwight needs to make his free throws. They’ll bomb away at home, but the rims tend to be more fickle on the road (just ask the Game 5 Nuggets), and last time I checked, LA had home court this series.
I’ll give full credit to the Orlando Magic- they’re not a fluke, they’re good. They’re really, really good. But I can’t shake the sense that despite it all, the Finals are still LA’s series to lose.
Prediction: Lakers in 7.
Christopher Thell, Contributing Writer
If I somehow became marooned on a tropical isle in the next few days and wasn’t rescued until after the NBA Finals ended, and was told the following by the Coast Guard crew who saved me, these would be my reactions:
Informed it was Lakers in five and I would be giddy. It must have meant the Lakers finally played like the dominant team (see Game 6 of the WCF in Denver) they can be over a sustained period of time. Is this the beginning of a dynasty?
If I was told Lakers in seven I’d believe it, too. At least the Lakers persevered and got the championship – but it’s a one-time fortuitous deal, not the imprint of a great team.
If you told me Magic in six or seven, I’d say, wow, the Lakers must have really choked. Too bad Kobe & Co. blew it – that’s going to linger.
So what’s my prediction? Dwight Howard and his lanky marksman are worth two games for sure, but look for the Purple and Gold to finally get their collective act together at the right time and take the first two games in the City of Angels, then drop two in Florida before hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy after the sixth contest back in LA.
Prediction: The Lake Show in 6.
Darren Yuvan, Contributing Writer
We have one team everyone thought would be here all along, and another who, despite an impressive regular season as one of the East’s three best teams, most didn’t give much of a shot to still be playing in June, especially after PG Jameer Nelson went down.
But the Magic are suddenly playing their best ball of the year, and Dwight Howard has been arguably the single most impressive individual player in these playoffs outside of Cleveland. Their 3-point bombs are falling, and their defense, while not dominant, has been more than adequate.
The Lakers, despite having an easier time with the defensively-challenged Nuggets than with the tough-minded Houston team of Round 2, remain maddengly inconsistent. They’re smooth and dominating one night, sloppy and distinterested the next. Their schtick will most likely continue–they are what they are–leaving the door open for a possible Magic upset.
However, recent rumors of a possible Nelson surprise Finals appearance aside, Rafer Alston will still be running the show in Orlando, and I just have a hard time seeing any team run by Skip to My Lou (or “5 for 13” as he was dubbed in Houston), who seems to pull at least one or two completely boneheaded moves every night without fail, having enough to take down the Lakers.
Howard will get his against Pau Gasol’s and Andrew Bynum’s mostly soft defense, but it won’t be enough.
Prediction: Lakers in 6.
Zachariah Blott, Contributing Writer
Orlando and Los Angeles met two times this past winter, with the Magic winning by narrow margins in both contests: 106-103 at the Staples Center and later 109-103 at home. There are a few consistencies with the pair of games and some changes to each team since then, so let’s look at how these could affect this Championship series.
Patterns from December 20 and January 16: Tell me if this sounds familiar: Orlando found themselves down by 9 and 8 at the halves, and then went on rampages in the third periods, leading by the beginning of the final periods and continuing to outscore LA in the 4th as well. Orlando hit 40% or more of their threes in each game (12-for-30 and 12-for-28). Kobe did what Kobe does: scoring 41 and 28 points, shooting 24-for-57 in the pair, and connecting on 18 of 19 free throws. Like they did most of the season, the Lakers had far fewer turnovers in each game: 9 to 15 and 11 to 16. The Magic outshot LA 49% to 41% and 45% to 40%.
Changes to Los Angeles Since Then: The Lakers traded top 3-point option Vladimir Radmanovic in February. He played a combined 35 minutes in the two match-ups, going off for 15 on 5-for-8 trifectas on Jan. 16. Ariza has gotten more minutes in his absense and has become the Lakers most versatile defender. Bynum was still at full strength against the Magic during the regular season, but his contributions were minimal, as he—like everyone else in the league—was saddled with foul trouble against Howard.
Changes to Orlando Since Then: The Magic lost All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson on February 2. He scored 28 and 27 against LA, including 7-for-12 from deep. He was quickly replaced by Rafer Alston, who had two so-so games against the Lakers while playing with the Rockets, but has risen to the occasion in the playoffs (35% behind the arc, 2.5-1 T/O rate, good perimeter defense). Rookie Courtney Lee has improved his play and minutes since those two games. Top reserve Mickael Pietrus played only 17 minutes in one game against the Lakers, but is now a standout shooter (39% on 3’s) and solid defensive contributor.
Conclusion: On one hand, it appears the Magic will hit their triples and not have to face an effective Bynum. On the other, will Alston be able to continue his reliable playoff run in Nelson’s absence? If Kobe improves his shooting touch and/or Gasol can handle Howard, the Lakers will win. If Alston doesn’t force the action, Howard and the Magic shooters continue to light it up versus LA, and if Gina Marie Incandela doesn’t lose her voice, Orlando will win. Orlando is more likely to meet these criteria, so…
Prediction: Orlando in 6.
More on the 2009 NBA Finals:
– The Lake Show’s Bit Players Must Perform
– Conference Finals Trends to Watch in the NBA Finals
– An Official Apology to the Orlando Magic
– The Impact of Derek Fisher for the Los Angeles Lakers
– Trevor Ariza Stepping Up His Game
– Are the Lakes a Martini or a Can of Tecate?
– Is Rashard Lewis Overpaid?
– What Happens to Hedo Turkoglu After the NBA Finals?