Most would agree that the Orlando Magic have looked like the best team thus far in the NBA Playoffs. The problem is, that can, and often does, all change when you step on the court with the Lakers. Prior to Game 6, I was questioning whether Dwight Howard could be the centerpiece of an Orlando offense that seems to live, and occasionally die by the three. Saturday night, Howard proved he could be a force inside on more than just open dunks and second chance points. Even in doing so, however, the Magic still jacked up 29 three pointers. That’s great when they’re going in, but the problem with the Lakers is they will bury a team, more so than any other squad, when the threes are not falling. Look no further than Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets converted a fairly solid 8-19 from beyond the arc, but the missed attempts seemed to stand out. That is ultimately what did them in Friday night.
The Lakers have an uncanny ability to stick to their game plan. Thanks to the presence of Kobe Bryant – who I still can’t help but to concede is still the best player in the league – they never seem as flustered as anybody else. Even without any standout shooters of the same caliber as Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus, and even Rafer Alston, they boast an impeccable balance of size, speed, length, and basketball IQ that it would be surprising if they lost more than two games in the upcoming series. Can the Magic match up with Bynum, Gasol, and Odom down low? I just can’t see that happening. What happens if Howard gets in foul trouble? I have a hard time seeing Gortat patrolling the paint and doing anything defensively to slow the Lakers on the block. I never thought I’d say this, but Adonal Foyle could be a key x-factor in the championship series. Problem is, Foyle has logged a total of 4 minutes the entire postseason. However, the Magic will need all the big bodies they have, and Stan Van Gundy doesn’t seem likely to call on Foyle off the bench. There’s probably a reason for that.
You won’t ever hear me call Phil Jackson the best coach in the league – I’m of the crowd who chalks his success up to having great players. But you can believe he will have his team defending the three-point arc without any lapses. The key guy in this series, and not many people would see this the same way, will be Courtney Lee. Lee has shown a supreme mastery of the ever popular mid-range jumper. With LA likely having one or two big men locked into the paint and the other guys firmly planted around the three-point line, it will be imperative for Lee to dominate the 15-20 foot area. The Magic must set an unofficial Finals record for most pump fakes and pull up jumpers to have any chance in this series. I just don’t know if guys like Turkogu and Pietrus will be able to stray from their three point dependancy.
THE KEY ASPECT I look to in the postseason is, for lack of a better word, swagger. What I mean by this is having players who have the mental toughness to go for the jugular and not get rattled when the other team is making a run. The Lakers have this. They always have. Sure, they’ve looked far from immortal this postseason, but we all know when it’s on the line, they’ll bring their A game. Any time you have Kobe on the floor with you, you know the game is always within reach and there’s no reason to panic or get scared. The Celtics were able to counter this thanks to the presence of Kevin Garnett. The Magic don’t have a guy like this. Looking up and down their roster, I don’t see many guys who can keep their composure when the Lakers are laying it on thick. I’ve seen guys like Turkoglu and Pietrus crumble in big situations. If Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony couldn’t do it, how can they? Orlando will need flawless execution and resiliancy to pull this one off. If they can survive the Staples Center and come away with a split, perhaps we can believe in them in a little bit. But there’s no way they will win a Game 5 or 7 in Los Angeles, so they definitely have their work cut out for them. Needless to say, I don’t see it happening.
Lakers in 4. ….maybe 5.