by Jack Maidment
The Los Angeles Lakers.
The Orlando Magic.
Two teams. Two vastly different histories.
The Lakers are heading to The Finals for the 30th time. They hope to win their 15th title.
In dramatic contrast, the Magic will be appearing in The Finals for only the second time. Since sampling the delights of The Big Dance with Shaquille O’Neal back in 1995, Orlando has very much been an ‘also ran’ when the Playoffs role around.
But the emergence of another All-Star, All League Center in the shape of Dwight Howard, has powered the Magic to the Promised Land despite the prevailing sense of doubt that has emanated from the media all season long.
Boston, LA, San Antonio, Cleveland. They were the ‘real’ contenders.
Yet here we are. Two teams with vastly differing pasts will meet in The Finals for the NBA Championship. And both deserve their spot.
The Lakers may be the Jekyll and Hyde of pro sports, but their talent cannot be questioned. Nor can their heart, which has been shown numerous times.
When the Lake Show was seemingly in a hole, even if they had put themselves in it, they came out firing and ultimately are still standing.
Character, like tea, reveals itself in hot water and you better believe that’s true. As the water boiled around them, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, made the plays that mattered to get the W.
Meanwhile, regardless of commentators’ love of the phrase ‘live and die by the 3 pointer’, Orlando has progressed and shows no signs of changing their style.
And why would they. You can’t stay hot all the time. True. But when you have a team with more long range threats than the US Navy it doesn’t matter if 1,2 or 3 of your guys goes cold. You still got the other 3.
Combine the shooting of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Reddick and Courtney Lee with the inside presence of Dwight Howard and the grossly underrated Marcin Gortat then you have a recipe for success.
So where will the Championship be won and loss?
1. Home Court.
The Lakers must be secretly excited that they avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus an extra road game. Their regular season hard work has paid off with the Magic needing a win at the Staples Centre to have any chance at the Gold.
Both teams have maintained a constant disregard for home court this post season. Both have had disappointing losses at home only to follow them up with huge road wins to recover the advantage.
If the trend continues then we have a rollercoaster 7 game stretch ahead of us.
But. If the Lakers can stamp their authority on the series with victories in the opening two games the Magic will face a huge task to wrestle the trophy from Phil Jackson’s hands.
2. Front Court Vs Front Court
The respective 3,4 and 5s of these teams would leave just about every team in the NBA green with jealousy. Both are extremely talented.
The way in which they match up in The Finals will go some way to deciding who prevails.
The difficulty for the Lakers falls on the defensive end where the Magic will provide the same match up problems as they did the Cleveland Cavaliers.
3 guys, all 6-10 or bigger. All Mobile. 2 of them will kill you off the dribble despite their size.
Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom will have their hands full. Whoever isn’t trying to contain Dwight Howard will be tasked with sticking to Lewis and Turkoglu.
Odom is the best equipped to deal with the outside threat of the Magic big men, but who picks up the other guy? Pau or Bynum on Lewis? That could get ugly.
All this to worry about while simultaneously trying to keep Howard off the glass.
3. Kobe Bryant
Kobe’s importance to LA is huge. The Magic will unlikely allow him to score 1 on 1 while they take care of his team mates, but such is his ability out of the double team that doubling up can allow Kobe to get his entire team scoring, boosting the feel good factor and mood of the crowd.
In a series that will undoubtedly be tight, Kobe down the stretch could be the difference. The Magic will look to hustle and hurry him all series long but he will get his. You just have to live with that.
Lakers in 6.