Thursday, June 4, 2009

Let the Festivities Begin...

Now that Vitamin Water's dreams have been crushed by Dwight Howard and the Magic, it's time to accept that the Lakers will not be playing the Cavs in the Finals. Like most of America, I'm disappointed to see Lebron's un-Earthly season go, but hey, he gave us some good times. It's time to appreciate the quality matchup ahead.

The matchups between the Cavs and the Magic, were anything but quality. Rashard Lewis vs. Anderson Varejao? Come on. I think I could write another article on the problems with that matchup alone. Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. the most athletic center in recent history? Yeah right. Ilgauskas looked like he was running in quick sand. But even unfathomably worse than the matchup choices for Cleveland, was their defensive scheme. Honestly, what was Mike Brown thinking?

Gee, let's double and triple team Dwight Howard all game when his four teammates are unconscious from three. In the first four games the Magic shot 43% from deep. Rashard Lewis shot 58% in that stretch, which literally isn't real. Imagine if Jameer Nelson had been healthy for the series. He shot 45% from behind the arc this year. His replacement, Rafer Alston, shot only 38% for the series. It could've been ugly for the Cavs. Well, uglier I guess.

In the Conference Finals, the Magic demonstrated that their offense was lethal. Possibly even illegal. They hit 17 threes in Game 4. How is Cleveland supposed to compete with that? There was no amount of money David Stern could have paid the refs to help the Cavs win that game, or even that series. Cleveland made no adjustments and no open looks. And it seemed like every time Delonte West or Zydrunas Ilgauskas bricked another shot, the Magic would come right down in transition and bury an open shot to add insult to injury. Nothing was going to stop the Magic from trouncing the inferior Cavs, not even Lebron James.

So now the Magic roll into LA riding high and as confident as ever. And all of a sudden, people are beginning to question whether the Lakers are still the best team left in the postseason, and whether or not they can matchup with a seemingly un-matchable offense.

Defense usually win championships. But offenses usually aren't as good as Orlando's. It's been said that there are teams that live and die by the three. More often than not, those teams die. But Orlando might just be the healthiest three-point shooting team I have ever seen.

Speaking of health, I hear Jameer Nelson is trying to pull a Terrell Owens. After missing 40 regular season games and all of the playoffs with a shoulder injury, Nelson is trying to make a magical (so witty) return for the Finals. Is this a good idea? I really don't think so. I understand he averaged 27 points per game against the Lakers this season, and elevated his game to an all-star level, but he can't expect to return to playoff form after missing all those games. Alston has proven he can carry the load at point, and there's no need to risk causing controversy at this point on such an important stage. It must kill Nelson to watch his team embark on this remarkable run without him, but he needs to understand that it's not the time or place for him to return.

Nelson or not, the Magic will bring an unselfish offense with an onslaught of pure shooters and a powerful force in the paint. The Lakers will counter with a deep and athletic team of their own. They've got the experience now, as well as the best closer in the game. They also have the Zen master himself at coach, Phil Jackson. Don't expect him to double and triple down on Howard. He knows where the true threats on Orlando lie -- 23 feet 9 inches away from the basket. I expect the Lakers to use Gasol and Bynum interchangeably on Howard. This allows them to use the series' key player, Lamar Odom, on Rashard Lewis. Lewis is 6'10" 230, with a strong ability to take defenders off the dribble. Varejao was 6'11" 260, with no mobility whatsoever. Lamar Odom on the other hand, is 6'10" 230, with a strong ability to take defenders off the dribble as well. They're pretty much identical in body type and athleticism. Now that's a matchup. If Odom plays aggresive, and wins the point and rebounding battle with Lewis, there's no way the Lakers should lose. Kobe will be Kobe. I expect Fisher to be clutch as always. And Ariza's size, athleticism, and defensive prowess, should be an extremely valuable asset against the Magic as well.

My Finals Prediction:

Lakers 4-2: All in all, I think the 2-3-2 format for home-court advantage plays in the Lakers favor. I see them stealing one on the road, and protecting home court all the way. Odom will be the difference and Kobe will steal the show.

Unless Odom has a sweet tooth before the games.

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