For those of you who haven't been keeping track, as of right now it has been 11.5 months, 348 days, 8,349 hours, 500,940 minutes, or 30,056,400 seconds since the modern day Boston Massacre. That's right, only 289,800 more heartbeats (70 bpm) until the Los Angeles Lakers are presented with an opportunity to redeem themselves. No, it's not those pesky Boston Celtics with their wheelchairs and depends diapers that we will be playing. Nor will it be those adorable little Cleveland Cavaliers and their walk-on-water leader LeBron James. We fans will just have to take solace in the fact that we SWEPT both of those teams in the regular season (insert smile here).
Our opponent instead is a relative dark horse as far as top four teams go...the bridesmaid of this season who wants so badly to wear that pretty white dress. Yet I'm sure that if you ask Derek, Kobe, or Phil, they will tell you that the Orlando Magic are one of the last teams that they wanted to see in the Finals, The Celtics make the Lakers angry; the Cavs make the Lakers underdogs. But they Magic? They just make the Lakers frustrated. Power Forwards that can shoot the three and a white guy that isn't very athletic? Who do they think they are...us? And of course, they are one of only two teams that swept the Lakers this season, the other being NCAA, er I mean Charlotte Bobcats (Once again, thanks for the gift that is UPS. Just remember to keep Rad Vlad away from the slopes).
So to start off our FInals preview here on SS&R, I present to you the match-ups, because as Jalen Rose will say once the producer finally whispers it into his ear, that is what the NBA is all about.
(Quick note-check those out
Ready to take that leap of faith into the Finals? Yes? Then damn it man, what are you waiting for?!? Click the jump already, before it's too laaaaaa...
Derek Fisher vs Rafer Alston
It was nice to see Derek Fisher find his shot towards the end of the Denver series and finally reach double digits, but people do tend to shoot better when they're not having to catch their breath after every play. There's both good news and bad news with that. Alston is much faster than Chauncey Billups, but not nearly as fast as his replacement in Houston Aaron Brooks, so there is a possibility that Fisher might be able to hang with Alston. I wouldn't count on it, but then again Brooks really wasn't that effective until Yao went down and the lane opened up. Since I don't foresee anything happening to Howard other than some foul trouble, he might actually help negate some of Alston's speed advantage. While Alston might be quicker and more athletic than D-Fish, Derek's leadership and decision making is light years ahead of Alston's. There's a reason that Turkoglu has the ball in his hands so much at the end of the game for the Magic. And honestly, do you think that somebody straight out of the AND1 Mixtape Tour named Skip To My Lou is that great of a traditional point guard? So in the end, it's speed and youth vs wisdom and leadership (this seems to be a theme with Fisher) Advantage: Draw
Kobe Bryant vs Courtney Lee
This one is tricky, because I'm not so sure that Mickael Pietrus isn't starting here because of the good defense he played on LeBron. Lee has been spectacular these playoffs, especially for a rookie, but he is just to small and green to guard Kobe. This is obviously the biggest match-up advantage Kobe will have had since the first round (no disrespect to Brewer), so if the Magic do not put a big body on him from the start, the Lakers will return to the pick and roll from Games 1 and 2 of the WCF and Kobe will go bananas. I would also like to say that Kobe will shut down either one of these guards, but we all know that's not going to happen. It is a huge mistake to leave either of these players because of their ability to knock down the 3, but there is an overwhelming need to double Howard, and the easiest way to do this is to have Kobe play rover. This match-up will be a chess game of attacks and counter-attacks, but after what we saw from Kobe in Game 5, I don't think Orlando stands a chance of neutralizing him. If the Magic thought that LeBron was a headache, wait until they meet the Mamba, who has oh, I don't know, about 20 different ways to beat you compared to LeBron's 3. Advantage: Los Angeles
Trevor Ariza vs Hedo Turkoglu
This is perhaps the most interesting match-up. Ariza has the length, quickness, and instinct to bother Turkoglu, but Hedo is bigger, probably stronger, and deadly from three. There is no way that Hedo drives past Ariza, and it is unlikely that he will post him up either, because that is Lewis' job. What I am worried about, besides Turkoglu using his 2 inch advantage on Ariza to hoist threes, is him bulling his way into the lane and drawing fouls. Also, Hedo has the ball in his hands A LOT, and Trevor is a much better off ball defender when he can sneak up and get the steal. In fact, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to put LO on Turkoglu when he is in the game and put Ariza on the smaller Lewis. But for the sake of the argument, let's pretend that Ariza stays on Turkoglu. Do the Magic have Hedo leave Ariza to help on Bryant, daring him to beat them with his jumper as every other team has done (and I think if you were to ask them now they would regret it)? Or do they have him stay at home (doubtful) and let Ariza use his quickness to blow by him and put Howard in a precarious position? The answer to this question could be a large part of the answer to this series. Advantage: Orlando (but just barely)
Pau Gasol vs Rashard Lewis
Inside vs outside. This is what this match-up comes down to. Lewis will occasionally post, but he will probably do this less so when faced with 7 feet of Spanish terror. This means he will camp out at the three point line where he can knock down threes with the best of them. This also draws Gasol away from the paint, and away from any possible big man double on Howard. And, as a last resort, he can use his slight speed advantage to take Gasol off of the dribble. Of course, that is when the Magic are on offense. When the Lakers have the ball, the tide shifts dramatically. Gasol better register here on SS&R, because he will be posting all game long against the smaller Lewis (I know, that joke was HORRIBLE, but it stays). With a 3 inch height and 15-25 pound weight advantage (probably a first for him), he needs to go to work under the basket all day, every day. With his array of spins, hooks, floaters, and jumpshots, Lewis will be helpless and will probably have to front him. This means weakside help from Howard and lots of dunks for my man Andrew Bynum. Of course, when Odom comes in and Gasol switches to Howard, then it's lights out, you're so soft, blah blah blah, but let's close our eyes and pretend that it's Howard, not Bynum, in foul trouble. Ahhh, that's better. Advantage: Los Angeles
Andrew Bynum vs Dwight Howard
Keep that seat at the end of the bench warn, because big Drew will be headed there soon enough. Despite all of his improvement in these playoffs, Bynum still has a nasty habit of picking up 2 quick fouls. Granted some of these were him protecting the basket after blown assignments, but he is our biggest, strongest body and needs to stay on the floor. Yet if he is in foul trouble against the likes of Collins and Nene, I shudder at the thought of what Howard and his incredibly small shirts will do to him. Once he goes to the bench, it's easy pickings for Howard against Gasol, Odom, and Mbenga. If he does manage to stay on the floor, Bynum's job will be simple: rebound and stay behind Howard. The Magic cannot get second chance opportunities because that will lead to threes, and while Bynum cannot stop Howard, he can slow him by forcing him into a lot of jumpshots. On offense, Andrew can try to score a lot, but he is going against the DPOY and an excellent on ball defender. All I can ask is for Bynum to give a pump fake, get Howard in the air, and draw a foul or two. Anything past that is gravy, and really it will be up to our guards to drive and draw fouls on Superman. Advantage: Orlando
Orlando's bench is solid, but very, very shallow, often only 3 players deep. Provided the Lakers bench shows up, they will have a huge advantage. For the Magic, Pietrus is very good, but Gortat is an energy player, Johnson is aging, and Redick is s sharpshooter. The rest (Foyle, Battie, and Lue – remember him?) barely sniff the court. Compare that to the Lakers, who have a swiss army knife in Odom, 2 explosive and confident point guards in Farmar and UPS, and two struggling but potentially dangerous players in Vujacic and Walton (uggh I can't believe I just said that last part). Oh, and Mbenga too, but he is just a big body and 6 fouls. If the bench decides to show up and play, they could very well win this series for the Lakers. Advantage: Los Angeles
After a very tough series against Houston, Phil Jackson received a lot of criticism, most of it from yours truly. However, he bounced back against Denver and showed why he gets the big bucks with those masterful Games 5 and 6. Just like Kobe, PJ has been there and done that when it comes to championships, and right now it appears that he is on top of his game. Stan Van Gundy, on the other hand, is as green as his team when it comes to the finals. I see him as less of a coach and more of a motivator, and as entertaining as it is, I'm not exactly looking forward to hearing him scream nonsense for 30 minutes a game. Also remember, there was the little tet-a-tet he and Dwight Howard had over who should get the ball, so keep an eye on that should the Magic find themselves in a hole. Advantage: Los Angeles
This one is obvious. Basically all of the Magic are new to this possible NBA championship thing, while the Lakers certainly are not. Kobe, Fish, and Phil have been to countless finals, and the rest of the team was there last year. Thanks to their humiliating defeat in Game 6 of those finals at the hands of the hated Celtics, the Lakers are angry. They are hungry. They are driven and while it's not like the Magic are satisfied with just a conference championship, many did not expect them to be here and I just don't see them having the motivation required to stop Kobe, much less this entire Lakers team. Advantage: Los Angeles
Well, there you have it. I've shared my thoughts, so feel free to chime in with yours below. See you Thursday!
Go Purple & Gold!