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NBA Finals Preview: An Author Round Table

As usual here at SS&R, we've done our best to preview the upcoming series for you in just about every way imaginable. to give you the most information and the most complete perspective possible. You've gotten an overall preview from me via Ball Don't Lie. You've gotten an essay on the Lakers' continuing upward trend, suggesting they might be better still in the Finals. You've gotten a position-by-position breakdown from Sideout11. You've gotten an offense/defense preview from ryebreadraz. You've gotten an in-depth statistical preview from DexterFishmore. Hell, you even got a PodRoundCast preview and prediction before we even knew our opponents! (Thank Matt Moore for that silliness!) Phew!

To round out our series of previews' from every angle, we finish this up with an Author Round Table, bringing together all of our authors' key thoughts on the series that begins tonight. We've got plenty to say... but what do you expect? It's the Finals!

Click on through for our authors' final thoughts...

Ryebreadraz: Lakers in 6

Well, the Lakers have been tested. Some said that the Lakers' problem in the 2008 Finals was not just a matter of physical toughness, but a matter of mental toughness that the Lakers hadn't developed because they rolled through the Western Conference. The 2008 Lakers lost a total of three games in three Western Conference series, but this year, they lost six. Not only did they lose six, but they faced elimination once and especially against Denver, went late into key games having been outplayed or played evenly. It was in those situations that our stars led and role players stepped up.

Trevor Ariza is a prime example of this. Some may forget, but coming into 2009, Ariza had made a grand total of nine three-pointers in his NBA career. Then, he shot just over 30% in the regular season, but in these playoffs he's been lights out. He's also been a defensive stopper with a knack for making the big play when the Lakers need it, as the pair of inbounds steals versus the Nuggets showed. How about Shannon Brown, who's come out of nowhere and was the guy who turned around Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals for the Lakers despite having played a rather poor first four games? Jordan Farmar has arisen from the dead, Luke Walton scored 10 points in Game 6 versus the Nuggets and didn't miss a shot. All of this while guys like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol show they're halfway decent and may have a future in this league.

The Lakers have learned a lot about themselves in these Western Conference Playoffs, but now it's time for the round they've been waiting for since June of '08. The Lakers are better prepared for the Finals this time around and get home-court advantage to boot, but they have to play a Magic team that presents some problems. First of all, how do you guard Dwight Howard without double teaming, and when you double, can you do it quick enough with such a spread court? Then, once that double gets to Howard, perimeter shooters will be open and they can sure shoot it. Will the Lakers double Howard at all or will they be content for Howard to go off so long as they don't get beat from long distance? The key to the series for the Lakers will be Andrew Bynum. If he can effectively guard Howard and stay on the court, the Lakers won't have to double the post, the Magic's four other guys will have to put the ball on the floor and when the Lakers go on offense, Rashard Lewis will have to guard Pau Gasol. Advantage, Lakers. If Bynum can't do an adequate job defending or stay on the court, Odom will have to come in, ridding the Lakers of their offensive advantage with Pau attacking Lewis, plus they will likely have to double Howard on all touches unless they're content with him scoring 35.

At the end of the day, I feel pretty confident that the Lakers will win in six. Yes, Orlando took two from the Lakers in the regular season, but the Magic don't have Jameer Nelson, who destroyed LA. Also, the Lakers have experience the Magic don't. If you're not sure whether or not to trust me with my Lakers in six prediction, just know that I picked a Lakers/Magic NBA Final waaaaay back in October. No joke, true story. I have witnesses. Trust me, Lakers in six and we'll party on Figueroa.

C.A. Clark (a.k.a. FryingDutchman): Lakers in 6

For the first time in the playoffs, the Lakers face a team that they do not have the clear cut matchup advantage against.  This isn’t to say that the Magic have the advantage either.  Besides point guard, you could make the case that one team or the other has a huge matchup advantage at every position, and the combination of all these matchups is too utterly confusing to label one team as matching up better against the other.  So, as is always the case, the team that wins will be the team that does a better job of promoting its matchup advantage.  What makes this series different, and perhaps special, is that both teams have so many possibilities to exploit in order to get the victory.  The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, capable of killing the Magic in so, so many ways.  The Magic have Dwight Howard, who can rip your heart out and dunk it in the basket, all with a childlike grin on his face.  The Lakers have Pau Gasol, who plays the game of basketball like it’s a Rubik’s cube that only he knows how to solve.  The Magic have Rashedo Turkoglewis, their 6’10” twins (fraternal) who, combined with the guy actually manning the 2 spot, give the Magic three shooting guards on the court at all times (with a point guard).  Any one of those players is capable of being a real difference maker.

That being said, the Lakers do have a far better situation vs. the Magic than any team who has faced them in the playoffs so far, because the Lakers might be the first team who can match the athleticism of Orlando’s 3/4 situation.  Every team they have played so far has had only one guy really capable of dealing with Hedo and Rashard, so whoever is not being guarded by said guy can have a field day.  The Lakers would appear to have at least two guys (Odom and Ariza) who can deal with both the size and the quickness of the Magic wings.  Even Walton fares better against those two than any of the guys Cleveland had ready to play the 4 spot.

Some other major questions, when answered, will tell you who wins this series.

How do the Lakers decide to matchup the 4 and 5 against Orlando?  Does Phil try to put Bynum and Gasol out there at the same time?

The possibility of a Gasol vs. Lewis matchup is the most intriguing to me in the whole series.  Lewis would clearly have the quickness advantage, and it would certainly be a tough cover for Gasol.  On the other hand, Gasol would absolutely devour Lewis inside, but Lewis would have the DPOY backing him up for all of Gasol’s little floater hookshots.  Meanwhile, Bynum is the best equipped physically to deal with Howard, but Howard will probably foul Bynum out in an average of maybe 20-25 minutes (I’m not even sure if this is considered a bad thing).

Let’s take it the other way, and say Jackson goes primarily with Gasol and Odom.  Does Howard murder Gasol in the post with his strength?  Can Gasol score against Howard 1 v 1 consistently?  Will Odom be able to dominate Lewis inside (which he should be able to do)?

Next Question.  Can the Lakers box out Dwight Howard?

Dwight is averaging over 15 boards a game, and Rashard Lewis is second, with 6 boards a game.  Whoever is guarding Dwight, simply boxing him out should be the ONLY priority.  That person shouldn’t even attempt to get rebounds unless the ball comes to them as they box Dwight out.

From all these questions, it seems clear to me that those two spots on the floor really define this series.  If Lewis and Howard prove a lot more effective than the Lakers trio of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom, it will be a tough series for LA to win.  Either Bynum (defensively) or Odom (offensively) have to show up.  But if Orlando doesn’t win this matchup significantly, they have little chance of winning the series.

Because, as always, the Lakers have Kobe.  And the Magic don’t have a chance of stopping him.  I know Pietrus and Lee did a pretty adequate job against LeBron, but they did so by backing off of him, and daring him to beat them with jumpers.  That strategy will be a just a bit less effective against the Mamba.  They will have to respect Kobe’s jumper a lot more, and Orlando will be forced to help with Howard on Kobe’s penetration.  If the offense is working right (i.e., there is good spacing, and Odom is making those dives he can do so well), there should be plenty of opportunity for easy buckets and wide open 3’s.

In the end, my gut tells me the Lakers have more than Orlando.  Orlando has played VERY well against the top teams all season long, including the sweep over the Lakers, but those two victories were a) very close and b) won for Orlando by Jameer Nelson, who probably won’t play in this series, and definitely won’t be very effective if he does play.  There’s also the experience factor.  The Lakers have been to the Finals before, and the Magic have not.  This becomes even more relevant because of the Magic’s dependency on the 3 point shot.  It’s tough for that to be a big staple in the pressure cooker of the NBA Finals.  In this series, as I’ve said throughout these playoffs, I think Orlando has to win two in LA to win it.  My prediction is based on them winning none, but a split over the first two games, followed by a seven game series, would not surprise me in the least.

Wild Yams: Lakers in 6

I think Orlando represents the toughest test the Lakers have faced so far in these playoffs, and they're the toughest by far.  In Dwight Howard the Lakers will be facing the single toughest person to guard in the league, outside of LeBron James (and Kobe, of course); and at the same time they'll be facing a team that excels at the thing the Lakers have shown the most problems defending: three point shooting.  If that wasn't enough, Orlando features a genuinely balanced attack and can beat you with a whole host of players much the same way the Lakers can.  On the defensive end, Orlando plays great team defense, and not only has the Defensive Player of the Year anchoring their backline defense, but has a guy in Michael Pietrus who should be able to do a credible job of guarding Kobe one-on-one for long stretches.

At the same time, the Lakers match up better against Orlando than any team the Magic have faced so far in these playoffs.  LA has the size to throw at Dwight Howard without having to double team him, and that alone should help limit the wide open three point looks that Orlando has grown used to of late.  Additionally, even though the Magic may be able to get away with single covering Kobe, they almost surely will have to double Pau Gasol a lot to prevent him from having his way inside against Rashard Lewis, or from the high post against Dwight Howard.  I think that even though some speculate that the 2-3-2 format of the Finals favors the team without home court advantage, I think that when you factor in Orlando's inexperience in The Finals (as contrasted with LA's Finals experience from top to bottom), it could lead to two quick victories in Games 1 and 2.  If that happens LA should be able to steal one of the three in Orlando and could wrap it up in Game 6 at home, and that's my prediction: Lakers in 6.

Sideout11: Lakers in 7

Orlando is potentially a very scary match-up for the Lakers.  They have a very unconventional team in that most of their big men like to shoot the three.  As a result they tend to live and die by the three pointer, and if those shots are falling I'm not sure there's much the Lakers can do.  The minute they stay at home on the shooters is the minute Dwight Howard starts going to work.  The Lakers, on the other hand, have a huge advantage off the bench, so if we see consistent play out of them I won't be too worried.  This will be a very close and hard fought series, and could very well come down to home court advantage, which the Lakers are lucky to have.  In the end, I just don't see Orlando being able to stop the will of Kobe Bryant and this entire Lakers team that was so thoroughly humiliated one year ago.  Now is finally the Lakers time.

Josh Tucker: Lakers in 6

You can read many of my thoughts in the preview I wrote for Ball Don't Lie, so let's focus on a few things we haven't talked very much about.

The matchup nightmares the Magic present to most teams begin with Dwight Howard. Few teams, if any, have the ability to guard him one-on-one and live to tell of it. (At least, that is how the story goes.) However, as soon as Howard is doubled, Orlando's fantastic outside shooters are open for three-pointers. Make three pointers is what they do. Howard willingly kicks the ball out, and the perimeter guys swing the ball with rapid precision, finding an open shot. More often than any other team in the league, they hit that shot.

Just one problem: I believe the primary assumption is flawed. Do the Lakers have a single player who can defend Howard one-on-one? Unless Andrew Bynum can suddenly correct his inability to stay on the court, no. Does that mean the Lakers need to double Dwight Howard? On this one also, I'm going with no. Does that make sense? I believe it actually does, and to Lakers fans especially, it should.

Basic principle: One many having his way offensively is better than an entire team having its way offensively. Lakers fans know this better than anybody. The best way to beat L.A. is to find a way to take every other player out of the game, and try to make Kobe win the game by himself. And you know what? He just might do that. But at least you've got a fighting chance – and if Kobe is passing out of double teams and the entire roster is getting involved and rolling the way this Lakers team can when the offense is really in sync, you're doomed. Simple as that.

Cavs fans have had a taste of this as well. Had LeBron been able to scale back his own individual production in favor of getting his whole team involved and actually running a real offense (no, LeBron dribbling out half of the clock and then going one-on-five for a tough shot or a direct pass-and-shot with no ball movement is not a real offense), the Cavs would have been far more dangerous than they were when LeBron was getting his but no one else was really involved. The team offense never really got rolling, and that doomed the Cavs.

The idea is the same with Howard and the Magic. Single cover him, and he might dominate. He could end up with 40 points and 20 rebounds. But that is better than the alternative – which is that Howard opens up the floor for his shooters, the Magic's entire offense gets involved, guys start hitting shots, and the entire team plays with energy. Oh, and guess what – Superman is probably still going to get his.

Single cover Dwight Howard, stay honest on the shooters, and make them put the ball on the floor. Howard will get his, but the Magic's offense will be stagnant compared to what it is when everyone is getting involved and the threes are falling like rain. The good news is that all indications are that Phil Jackson and crew understand this fact very well, and have delivered that message to their players. The Lakers, it seems, do not intend to double Dwight Howard. As a result, Howard may have a moster series, but the Magic as a team may struggle offensively more than they have in any other series this postseason.

A second factor is Pau Gasol, and in particular, his matchup with Rashard Lewis. Of course, all of this becomes moot if Bynum can't stay on the floor – though I might be in favor of DJ Mbenga to bang with Howard defensively, while Mbenga's deficiencies on offense would be more than compensated for by Gasol's continued ability to exploit the matchup with Lewis on offense.

But what really intrigues me is Gasol playing the power forward spot on defense. That matches him up with Lewis, and he'll have to defend Rashard in three ways. First, in the post. Size, strength, quickness, and length favor Gasol here, so this is really not a problem at all. Second, on the perimeter. This becomes more intriguing. Conventional wisdom says a 7-footer hates to come out and defend shooters on the perimeter. But Gasol is no 7-footer, and he's shown an ability to defend the perimeter well before. If he is committed, and I believe he will be, I think he can actually defend Lewis' perimeter jumpshot quite well. That leaves the third and final way in which he'll have to guard Rashard: on the dribble. If he defends Lewis well on the perimeter, Rashard may have no choice but to put the ball on the floor and attempt to drive past Gasol. Again, this would seem to put Gasol at a disadvantage, but again, I'm intrigued. In case you haven't noticed, Gasol is one quick-footed 7-footer. When he runs the break, he looks like a point guard (when he was younger, he was a point guard). His foot speed is excellent for a big, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he can keep up with Lewis quite well – provided, of course, that he is committed to what he will have to do against Lewis on the defensive end. And I really think he will be. If he gets much time at the 4 spot, it should be an intriguing matchup, and I won't be shocked if it favors Gasol even more than many assume.

The final factor here that I think has gone fairly undiscussed is expectation. Consider this: I don't think any Lakers player would have admitted this at the time (and perhaps they still wouldn't, even now), but when they reached the Finals last year, I think most of them (Kobe being the primary exception) had a certain sense of satisfaction that came from getting farther than they were supposed to — farther than even they, at one point, had expected. To a certain extent, in their subconscious, I think many of the role players no longer felt they had as much to prove anymore.

Of course, that changed when they lost the Finals. Now the Lakers have something to prove. They've been here before, so this doesn't feel like any sort of accomplishment to them. They have not outdone expectations yet; in fact, they have not even lived up to expectations yet.

The Magic, on the other hand, strike me as being in the same place the Lakers were in last year. Oh, they will all say the right things, and none of them would admit this — but I think it's possible that many of them may feel they've already proven themselves. They've already "showed us." They've already outdone expectations and gotten farther than they were supposed to. Given all of that, can they match the extreme thirst for victory that the Lakers, who still have much to prove, will bring? I'm not sure.

You saw it, I think, in the way each team celebrated winning the Conference Finals. Specifically: The Lakers didn't. They put on the shirts and hats, looked completely unimpressed, and then took them off as soon as the meaningless trophy was presented and the pictures were taken. Orlando, on the other hand, was ecstatic, giddy, uncontrollably joyful. Remind you of something? Last year, the Lakers were celebrated getting to the Finals much like the Magic did a few days ago. Does it mean anything? Maybe not. But if it's any indication of each team's mindset, then I feel good about how this will turn out. The Lakers have the same desperate mindset the Celtics had last year, and I think the Magic, like last year's Lakers, just might be pretty happy having even gotten this far.

It's going to be a fantastic series. So many possible matchups, so many mismatches, so many adjustments to be made. Unpredictability in basketball form. It should be great, and at the end, the Lakers should be celebrating their 15th championship.

Lakers in 6.

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