The NBA Finals this year may not be a marketing blockbuster as many had anticipated a Kobe-Lebron championship match up, which was simply thrown into wastebasket by the Orlando Magic two days ago following their 4-2 Eastern Conference Finals win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anyway, even without Lebron in the championship picture, I still believe the NBA Finals this year would really be exciting and very interesting because it features Los Angeles and Orlando–two squads with unique strengths and abilities.
For the Magic, their strengths lie on the paint and the perimeter.
While a lot of NBA teams have learned to rely on their outside shooting for victories, none does that better than the Magic.
Orlando averages close to 10 or three-pointers made in a contest throughout this season—a plus 30 points for each game—making them a deadly team to contend with considering that this strategy complements so well to the powerful inside game of fast-rising center Dwight Howard.
In Orlando’s 103-90 close-out victory over the Cavs in Game 6, the Magic simply gave NBA fans a glimpse of how dangerous they can be when the inside-outside strategy of coach Stan Van Gundy operates like a well-oiled machine.
Howard dominated the paint with a playoff virtuoso performance—40 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a couple of blocked shots.
What made him really deadly was his sound decision-making—when to make the move to the basket, when to make the pass to the perimeter into the waiting hands of either Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis or Rafer Alston.
A revelation for the Magic is the outstanding plays of Frenchman Mickael Pietrus, who averages 13 points in the playoffs coming off the bench. His solid defense against Lebron in Game 6 helped the blue-and-white’s dominant run in Game 6.
On the other hand, the Lakers still have the game’s best closer—Kobe Bryant.
Kobe averages 32 points per contest in the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets, whom they pummeled in Game 6 at the Pepsi Center to advance to the NBA Finals for the second straight season.
What makes the Lakers a championship-caliber team is the fact that they have a mixture of guys who could make huge plays when needed.
Pau Gasol, the 7-foot Spaniard, was the sparkplug in LA’s dominant performance in Game 6, finishing with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists that completely put Denver’s defense off the rhythm.
The reawakening of Lamar Odom in the Lakers’ last two contests also proved vital. Long regarded as the X-Factor, when Odom gets to play his A-Game in any given day, you can always expect the Lakers to be razor-sharp on both ends of the floor, because of his size (6’10”) and defense.
Of course, Trevor Ariza has given the Lakers more athleticism in the small forward spot. While he brings along his trademark defense (his steals in Games 1 and 3 against Denver contributed to the huge victories), he also shows he could hit those big threes when needed.
Remember that Ariza missed the playoffs last season because of a broken foot. This year, he’s been a man on a mission in contributing solidly for the Lakers’ championship chase.
Then again, the Lakers’ bench mob can be deadly, especially when they all play beautiful music together—Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown and possibly Josh Powell.
Maybe you’re wondering where Andrew Bynum fits in?
Well, Bynum has seen limited action in the playoffs though he was supposed to be playing more considering his huge 7-foot frame.
But since LA will have to contend with the power-playing Howard, I believe Lakers coach Phil Jackson will use every motivational word he could to inspire Bynum to play his heart out every game as he has the unenviable task of defending Orlando’s 6’11” slotman.
Orlando holds a 2-0 regular season edge against LA.
But knowing the implications of the Finals, both coaches would say, the regular season is completely different from a playoff or say, championship atmosphere.
Having considered all other factors for both squad, I think the Lakers’ championship experience will play a big role come crunch time.
Which is why to me, the Lakers will take the NBA championship in either six or possibly seven games.