Los Angeles and Orlando. Two sunny places full of smiling faces. At least, for fans of the Lakers and Magic, that is. Fresh off their impressive performance in the East Conference Finals against the Cavs, Dwight Howard and the Magic will now take on Kobe and the two-time defending Western Conference Champion Lakers for the Larry O’Brien trophy beginning Thursday. Who’s got the edge, and who will come away with the hardware? Read on…
Going into their matchup with Cleveland, you would have had to search pretty hard to find many unbiased observers who felt that the Magic were actually a better team than the Cavs. Now that the Magic emphatically dismissed the Cavs in 6 games, the exact opposite is true. Orlando is a better team, and would beat Cleveland if they were to match up again. Despite loading up and beating virtually every team that they should have during the NBA’s regular season, the Cavs’ lack of a powerful inside game and their height deficiency at the guard position were thoroughly exposed against Orlando. After the first two games in Cleveland, it was fairly obvious that for the Cavs to have a chance at winning the series, they were going to have to execute at a high level and have the Magic play average. Yet throughout 6 hotly contested games, the exact opposite once again proved true. The Cavs had absolutely no answer for Dwight Howard in the paint. The Cavs simply did not have a player on their roster that could slow him down, or even effectively foul him, when he was 3 feet from the rim. Orlando’s outide-in game worked to perfection, as the Cavs were never able to devise away to slow the Magic’s shooters down. Suddenly, for a team nearly written out of elite status after the potential season-ending loss of point guard Jameer Nelson to injury, the Magic have now emerged as the true Beast of the East. And with Dwight Howard anchoring the middle, they figure to be in the mix for the next several years. And despite LeBron James having the greatest playoff series of his career, it was Howard who was probably the MVP of the East Finals. Orlando’s 3-point shooting was incredible, but the threat of Howard on the inside, combined with the high pick-and-roll of Hedo Turkoglu, proved to be the difference in the series.
Over in the West, Denver gave the Lakers all they could handle through the first 4 games of the series. However, LA’s size and athleticism at virtually every position on the floor finally began to make its mark against a relatively inexperienced Nuggets team. Despite the valiant efforts of Chauncey, Carmelo, Nene, Kenyon Martin, and the Birdman, Kobe and the Lakers were simply the better team. And once they hit their groove during the second half of game 5 at the Staples Center, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Denver.
This year’s NBA Finals should be a great matchup. As was evident in the East Finals, Orlando is very capable of winning any game, anywhere. They are a team that is chalked full of confidence, and Dwight Howard seems ready to completely break out. Rashard Lewis, Turkoglu, Alston, Pietrus, and possibly even the return of Jameer Nelson give Orlando capable shooters all around the arc to surround Howard. However, the Lakers will be able to match up much more favorably with the Magic than the Cavs were able to do. Andrew Bynum will be able to bang with Howard down low, and the height of Lamar Odom, Pao Gasol, and even Trevor Ariza outside will make Orlando’s shooting percentage fall in this series. Orlando is a very, very good team that has peaked at the absolutely perfect time. And while I’ll be rooting for the Magic, I still like the Lakers to win this year’s Championship. Kobe seems poised to win his first ring without Shaq, and the Lakers currently are still the most talented team in the NBA.
Prediction: Lakers in 6