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2009 NBA Finals Outlook
By Clayton Ruley
 

The NBA Finals have arrived and the teams are ready to play. My prediction of Los Angeles Lakers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers was thwarted by the hype, amazing 3 point barrage and one monster of a center. Many (including myself) were annoyed by the Vitamin Water advertisements hyping up Kobe vs. LeBron. While it's probably true they are the best two players in the league the advertisement probably gave more motivation to a team led by the pivot play of young star Dwight Howard and shooters Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. These three players along with individual game efforts by Mickeal Petrus and Rafer Alston but Clevelands lack of perimeter defense on full blast and allowed the Orlando Magic to upset the number one seed in the NBA.

So now we have the Magic versus the LA Lakers as a match up and it should be a fascinating series.

On the one hand we have a young Magic team that lives and dies with the three and has the dominate center needed to space the floor. The addition of though to be lost for the season NBA All-Star Jameer Nelson is a interesting proposition and the Chester, PA product should help. Stan Van Gundy is a defensive minded head coach that he gotten the best of his team and after surviving a tough series with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic have defeated the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics in seven games and the Cavs in six games.

On the west side of things you have a team in the Lakers making their second straight NBA Finals appearance and hopes to change the outcome. Head coach Phil Jackson is looking for his 10th NBA title and Kobe Bryant is looking for his first without Shaquille O'Neal. The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz in the first round in relative easy, then toughed out a physical Houston Rockets team in seven games before knocking out the surprising Denver Nuggets in six games.

Let us breakdown the positions and give a prediction.

Point Guard

Orlando: Orlando has three quality guards in Jameer Nelson, Rafer Alston (acquired after Nelson's midseason injury) and Anthony Johnson. Rafer has done well in Nelson's absence but his three pointer has been shaky, here one game and gone another. This could be key because the Lakers will often sag of the point guard to help on Howard. Alston making shots will help thwart that strategy.

Nelson led the Magic to two wins in two opportunities versus  the Lakers in the regular season but he is coming off a long time not playing so don't look for him to get all the minutes he's used to getting. The team will bring him up slowly and look for him to do his thing in short segments. Nelson's play can be an X factor for this team to win the series. Johnson is a great back up who has been on plenty of championship caliber teams but don't look for him to get major minutes especially with Nelson's return. Oh, did I mention that Tyronn Lue is returning to LA where he won two NBA titles in the days of Shaq/Kobe?

Los Angeles: The Lakers have the dependable and clutch Derek Fisher, to go with the young, sometimes frustrating but exciting Jordan Farmar. Fisher is the only player on the roster who has won the three rings with Kobe in the early part of the decade and  is a co-captain (next to Kobe). He isn't a defensive stopper, his job will be to keep the team calm and make those three pointers on the kick out from penetration. Farmer is an decent back up but it prone to make some turnovers trying to do too much. It's important that both help on doubling Howard at times and that they close out on the three point shooting.

Shooting Guard

Orlando: The Magic have some streaky but athletic players in Courtney Lee and Mickeal Pietrus. Both players have had big games in the playoffs and both aren't afraid to make big shots and play defense. Pietrus has played defense for Kobe for years when he played in Golden State. Does that mean he can slow Kobe down? I don't think so but it certainly can help. Lee is young and has a lot of tread on his tires so he can run through the screen the Lakers will set and follow Kobe.

The question is what toll will this take on these two players offense? I think it will be big toll. Kobe Bryant is a different animal than LeBron James because he's not only great slashing to the basket but his half court game is super solid because of his jumper. These two players won't have many plays off on defense. J.J. Redick shouldn't expect to receive much time because of his defensive liability on the floor, his lack of ballhandling and the fact that the team has good shooters already

Kobe Bryant is shooting for a fourth ring.

Los Angeles: The Lakers have the best player in the game in Kobe Bryant. He has heard the talk of him not winning with Shaq and although he say it doesn't mean anything is motivated to win even in a small part because of it. That coupled with the fact the the Lakers have lost their last two NBA Finals ('05 vs. Detroit Pistons, 08 vs. Boston). Kobe is a great defender who has no one to worry about in the same manner say the Orlando has had to deal with in Paul Pierce and LeBron James.

On defense, expect Kobe to sag of his man at times to help on Howard. Kobe is a smart player so if someone like Petrius starts scoring he will make adjustments. Also look for the 6'7 Bryant to help guard Turkoglu and Lewis on the perimeter. Sasha Vujucic is decent sub who plays good defense but gambles a bit too much at times. Shannon Brown has been solid off the bench and should get a few minutes at the point and two spots to give the primetime players a break.

Small Forward

Orlando: The Magic have two unique players in Lewis and Turkoglu because both are on the floor and space the court compared to the traditional three and four positions where the four is a power forward who hangs around the block. Both players can dribble a bit but love to shoot from the outside so respecting that will be important for the Lakers.

Cheating down on Howard could mean trouble for the Lakers  because these guys can shoot. Pietrus also play the 3 spot at times so look for them to further spread the floor.

Hedo Turkoglu needs to play well to win.

Los Angeles: The Lakers have Trevor Ariza starting which allow Lamar Odom to come off the bench and play multiple positions. Ariza has had a coming out party this playoffs and actually knows many of the Magic well since he was traded from the Magic to the Lakers. He is a long 6-9 so he can help defend the small/power forwards on the Magic and can also hit a three or slash to the basket on defense.

Luke Walton is a solid 6-8 and smart player also. He makes up for his lack of athleticism with positioning. Look for him to get physical with the main two forwards and try to keep them out of position. If Walton can score 10 points it's a bonus, his main job is to defend in this series.

Power Forward

Orlando: Once again Lewis and Turkoglu play this position together with the occasional appearance by Tony Battie. Howard is the chief rebounder on this team so don't look for any banging down low from these two. Both will need help if they are trying to guard Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum on the block. Look for Battie to get more work this series.

Pau Gasol needs to offset the set the dominance of Dwight Howard.

Los Angeles: The Lakers will start with Gasol at the four spot and will sub with Odom with Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga at bare necessity. Gasol is a good passer out of a double team, has a nice jumper out to 16 feet and is nimble on a block. The Magic haven't seen this type of forward yet and it's a match up problem. Look for Gasol to attract the defense of Howard and back up center Marcin Gortat at times but Battie will got more work than usual in this series. It's important that Phil Jackson get Gasol the ball and that Gasol be aggressive.

Center

Orlando: Dwight Howard is the most dominant center in the league right now and he's only going to get better. Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing has done a great job with Howard's touch in the paint and footwork. Add that to Howard's raw physical skill and you have a big problem. Howard will need to slow the tempo of the game and get touches to be effective. Van Gundy can't fall in love with the perimeter players in needs to let Howard get dunks and get to the line(Howard is an improved free throw shooter).

Gortat is a nice physical backup who can dunk putbacks and shoot from close range. He could start for many teams in the league and should help to defend Gasol and Bynum as well as if Howard gets in foul trouble.

Will Dwight Howard's dominance give Orlando its first NBA title?

Los Angeles: The Lakers have the inconsistent, oft-injured Andrew Bynum at center and Gasol will get looks there as well when Odom comes in. The Lakers will give Bynum some looks in the paint but in this series he won't be a focal point but rather someone who makes putbacks and the occasional short jumper.

Bynum missed a big chunk of the season and hasn't been the impressive player he was last year sense. Anything he gives besides defense on Howard is a bonus. The Lakers will send plenty of bodies at Howard and use fouls but they'd rather give up his two than the long three.

Coaching

Orlando: Stan Van Gundy is a nag of a coach but he gets results. His defense, motivation and emphasis on consistency has the Magic at the apex of it's first NBA title.

Los Angeles: Phil Jackson has taken a young team built around a superstar to it's second consecutive NBA Finals. Jackson is going for his 10th championship as a coach and 12th overall (Jackson won two titles with the New York Knicks in the 1970s). By winning his 11th as a coach he would pass Boston's Red Auerbach for first all-time.

Prediction

The Magic has played great but I think there time is done. The Lakers have the best talent in the league and have recently matched their talent with consistent effort. Kobe Bryant is a one man wrecking crew who finally doesn't have to be one all the time. With consistent efforts from Odom and Gasol and clutch play and threes from Fisher and Ariza in the Denver series I saw the Lakers finally wake up.

The Magic pose some interesting matchups but Los Angeles have the length and bodies to defend Howard decently and still run out to contest the perimeter. Cleveland lacked that and it hurt them. If the Magic had one more consistent scorer on the perimeter it would be something different but I think both main players in Lee and Pietrus will be tired guarding a clearly focus Bryant who wants to make his declaration of game's best player clear.

I see  the Lakers winning in six games but wouldn't be surprised if it only took five either.

Any questions, comments, suggestions email Clayton at clayton@geoclan.com.

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