Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Rafer Alston
I must admit that Skip surprised me in the Eastern Conference Finals. He can be somewhat flaky, but stepped up when needed; if Lewis or Turk weren’t hitting shots, Alston either hit a 3 or went to the basket. I really enjoyed watching him play most of the time. He has to go up against a savvy PG in Fisher, but he can’t guard Alston for 35-40 minutes a game. Advantage: Magic.
Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Courtney Lee
So here we have a shooting guard with a mask and a headband, good midrange game, hits a floater every now and then, he kind of reminds of a certain Piston. When you’re Courtney Lee and you played like you played in the Playoffs, even having surgery (on his face!) and coming back from that and still contribute and being one of the better defenders of the team? We can clearly state that Lee is not a rookie anymore. And Kobe will remind him he’s not a veteran either. Advantage: Lakers.
Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Hedo Turkoglu
Both of these players played great in their respective Conference Finals series. While Ariza has to do a little bit of everything, Turkoglu is mostly known for his offense. Turk often brings the ball up, and not only creates for himself, but also creating for his teammates, as evidenced by the 6,6 assists per game he averaged against Cleveland. Advantage: Magic.
Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Rashard Lewis
Lewis continues to be a mismatch because of his three-point shooting. It will be interesting to see what the Lakers will do with Lewis; will they keep a body on him at all times, maybe switching Ariza or Odom on him? Will Gasol let Lewis shoot and provide help defense on Dwight Howard? But who of the Orlando Magic is going to guard Gasol? Since we’re living in a time where a Dwight Howard continues to foul out, which not always is entirely his fault, it wouldn’t make sense to put him on Pau. But Rashard Lewis can’t guard him either. Advantage: Lakers.
Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Dwight Howard
Speaking of fouls, Bynum can’t do anything right at the moment. No offense Mountain Drew. Side note: Howard shot 71,6% (48-67) from the free throw line against Cleveland. Not bad for a guy who 59,4% during the regular season. A beast: shot clocks beware. Advantage: Magic.
Michael Pietrus, who has been rather inconsistent in previous rounds, gave Orlando exactly what it needed during the Eastern Conference Finals: a scoring punch off the bench. He played very opportunistic basketball, either slashing to the rim but also hitting huge treys in the heat of the moment. Pietrus also saw a lot of minutes guarding LeBron, which is tough for any player in the League to do, but at least he made James work for some of his shots. Marcin Gortat got some extended minutes at center due to foul trouble to Howard. Anthony Johnson, as always, does his job as a solid back-up point guard. The Lakers on the other end got some great games out of Lamar Odom, filling in for Bynum as Gasol moved to the center spot, and Odom being the power forward. When he gets his rebounds and a couple of buckets on some nifty drives, the Magic won’t have an answer for that. Shannon Brown can be used as an energizer, and Luke Walton can be counted on to hit the open shot or hand out the assist. What the Lakers can get out of Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, varies with every game. Advantage: Lakers.
Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Stan Van Gundy
The last two games against Denver was great Lakers basketball. Kobe was used as a decoy, being more of a facilitator while waiting to pick his spots on the offensive end. Van Gundy must remind his three-point gunning team that Dwight has to get some shots, feed him the ball, and let him get into it early. You witnessed what happened in Game 6 against the Cavs: he got a couple of quick dunks early in the first quarter, and ended with 40 points. But Phil Jackson is on a mission. He must get his tenth championship, making him the most successful coach in NBA history. Advantage: Lakers.
What I’d say:
Lakers in six. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Lakers will need a game or two to adjust to Orlando’s transition 3’s, and of course, Dwight Howard. What the Lakers absolutely need to do is get Pau Gasol involved. He can shoot but also score down low, and I can’t see it happening that Howard will be on him all the time, so L.A. needs to take advantage of that. A big game by Gasol during the Finals, guarantees a win. I think Orlando will steal a game in L.A., and are difficult to beat at home. They’ve come a long way, but it looks like the Lakers finally understand what they are playing for, and will show that starting Thursday.