NBA Roundtable

NBA Finals Preview: Los Angeles vs Orlando

In 2009 NBA Finals, 2009 NBA Playoffs on June 2, 2009 at 11:43 am

Howard over Gasol

Los Angeles Lakers vs Orland Magic

Regular Season Standings

  • Los Angeles Lakers — 65 wins and 17 losses
  • Orlando Magic — 59 wins and 23 losses

Regular Season Matchups

  • Orlando won the season series 2-0
  • The first game was in Orlando. It was a close contest the whole way, with LA building a solid lead at halftime only for the Magic to roar back in the third quarter, and ending with a tense finish. Orlando won 106-103.
    • On the day, only two Lakers played well — Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher — They were superb. Bynum was abysmal and played only 12 minutes as he had more fouls (5) than points (3), no focus or effort from the big fella on that day. Pau Gasol was also invisible with only 11 points and 7 rebounds in 42 minutes. None of the bench showed up, actually, Radmanovic had a good game with a couple of steals and a nice breakaway dunk. Their starting three man (Walton) had an unimpressive game too. The Lakers shot only 45% (eFG%) on the day, they just couldn’t make a shot, and wasted a brilliant display from their leader Kobe Bryant.
    • Jameer Nelson was irresistible hitting 11 of 16 shot attempts for 16 points. The Magic also got a very good performance from Dwight Howard and their starting forwards. In other words, their top players all did the business. Courtney Lee played well, good defense on Kobe, but it won’t show on the box score because was red hot that night. Their bench was very poor though.
  • The second game was in LA and was one of the best games of the season. Orlando won 109-103. Again, it was a closely contested game the whole way, with Orlando making all the clutch plays down the stretch.
    • Another dominant display from Kobe Bryant with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. But he didn’t get enough help from the rest of his crew — Bynum was poor, not rebounding and so-so defense, and was too interested in getting touches and shot attempts off. Pau only had 13 points and only managed 33 minutes. Radmanovic hit 5 three pointers and played good defense, but he did nothing else. Radmanovic and Bynum were the two main reasons why Orlando killed LA 54-40 on the backboards. Lamar Odom played very well off the bench with 17 and 9, but Vujacic and Ariza both struggled. Fisher’s shot was off and he was destroyed defensively on the night.
    • Orlando’s starting five was superb. Their bench played a minimal role, although Battie (8 and 6 in 16 minutes) was very good. The main key was the starters though, and none showed brighter than Jameer Nelson. Jameer took over the game in the fourth quarter and destroyed the Magic with both his scoring ability and the drive and kick game, he just tore the Lakers’ defense apart and them off balance on almost every possession. He finished with 28 points, 8 dimes and 6 boards. Dwight Howard was a monster in the paint, simply knocking the smaller the Lakers out of the way and abusing LA on the backboards. He finished with 25 points and 20 rebounds. Howard did struggle a bit creating out of the post, missing some shots and turning the ball over, but he was excellent on the screen and rolls for Orlando. Courtney Lee had a big game with 12 points and 7 boards, including some high flying acts. Lewis and Hedo were kept quiet, combining for only 29 points, but they were decent enough.
  • No Nelson in the Finals … so that makes these two games/results largely irrelevant.

Magic Outlook

No Jameer Nelson

Jameer Nelson was phenomenal in both games against the Lakers during the regular season. He was averaging a team leading 27.5ppg over those two games. It was his ability on the screen and rolls, both as a scorer but more importantly with the drive and kick game, that set Orlando’s offense on fire and ripped the heart of LA’s defense apart.

His loss has been a massive one for Orlando and I’m surprised that they’ve gotten as far as they have without him. I think they’ll feel his absence again in the Finals, similar to the first two playoff rounds where their offense was clearly missing one of it’s most dynamic weapons and became a bit too predictable in the process.

No Nelson, no Magic wins vs LA during the regular season.

Some Stats From Season Series

Scoring — Jameer Nelson averaged 27.5ppg. Dwight Howard dropped 21.0ppg. Rashard Lewis scored 19.0ppg. Hedo Turkoglu added 13.5ppg. Nobody else in double figures

Rebounding — Howard pulled down 16rpg over the two games, five others averaged between 4-6 rebounds a night.

Assists — Nelson averaged 6.5 dimes, Hedo 5 dimes. Only one other player (Lewis at 3.5apg) averaged more than three assists.

Lakers Pick + Roll Defense

The Lakers greatest weakness defensively continues to be the pick and roll, and Orlando are one of the best pick and roll teams in the NBA. This is a big advantage for Orlando. LA struggles with both a pick and roll with a big like Dwight Howard, and the pick and pop which Orlando will run with Lewis.

Magic’s Depth

Orlando have far superior depth on the wings. Both Pietrus and Redick are better than their counterparts for the Lakers (Vujacic and Walton). Farmar’s mixed form also makes the backup PG matchup (Anthony Johnson) fairly even.

The most interesting battle will be between the backup big men. Orlando will roll out Gortat and Battie, while LA will use Lamar Odom and possibility Josh Powell. Lamar Odom is capable of the greatest highs, but his inconsistency allows this matchup to be too close for LA’s comfort.

Rafer Alston vs Derek Fisher

Rafer Alston has a huge speed advantage over the slower Derek Fisher. It’ll be very interesting to see how well he uses this in both the open court, and off dribble penetration opportunities. If Rafer can take advantage of his speed, that could give Orlando a great boost to their play.

Over the last couple of seasons, Rafer has had a couple of very good games against Fisher and LA but those games have been sprinkled around some very poor shooting efforts. Not exactly a surprise for Rafer to be inconsistent.

Superman

Dwight Howard went bananas against the Lakers, scoring 21.5 points and grabbing 16 rebounds per game in the two meetings against the Lakers.

Bynum struggled mightily against Howard, in the first game because his head wasn’t glued on straight, and in the second game because Howard wore him down with his physicality. Pau Gasol had even larger problems with Howard, not so much defensively as with his rebounding, Howard was able to get a lot of second chance opportunities by crashing the offensive glass against Gasol.

Lakers Outlook

Gasol Worries

Pau Gasol had two poor offensive performances against Orlando in the regular season, scoring only 11 points and 13 points in those games.

He has a big advantage down in the post, both a post skill advantage and a size advantage, over the smaller Lewis. If LA are to win this series, Pau Gasol has to take advantage of this matchup. LA cannot win without Gasol’s scoring, especially since his defense+rebounding contributions will be minimized by having to defend Lewis on the perimeter on the other end of the floor.

My main concern isn’t with Pau himself, although he is a concern, it’s with his teammates who haven’t been passing him the ball in the post often enough in the Conference Finals. This can’t continue in the Finals … the Magic are too and the Lakers won’t get away with it.

Phil Jackson

If LA can win this NBA Title, Phil Jackson will move ahead of Red Auerbach for the most titles ever won by an NBA Head Coach.

Some Stats From The Season Series

Scoring — Kobe Bryant led the way with 34.5ppg. Fisher had one excellent good performance which gave him 18ppg over two games. Pau had only 12ppg. Lamar only 10.5ppg.

Rebounding — Pau and Lamar averaged 8-8.5rpg, but the Lakers were led on the backboards by Kobe Bryant (10.5rpg). Bynum was abysmal with only 2rpg in 22 minutes over the two games.

Assists — Kobe (7apg) was the only player to average more than four assists.

Lakers Offense

The Lakers have to trust their offense more in the Finals than they did during the season series.

Against Orlando, the Lakers averaged only 16.5 assists a game. For the rest of the regular season they were handing out 23.3 dimes a night. That’s a huge difference.

There’s two main reasons for the differences (1) LA went out of their offense, turned to Kobe in isolation after isolation, and removed all of their usual ball + player movement (2) Their players struggled to make shots, especially in Orlando, which lowered the assist numbers further.

The Lakers have to do a better job of sticking to the Triangle and not just force feeding Bryant clear-outs.

Pau Gasol vs Rashard Lewis

This could easily turn out to be the pivotal matchup in the series. Which one of these players uses their advantages to better effect?

Will it be Lewis with his long range arsenal? His ability to spread the floor? To take Gasol out of the paint and leave the middle open for Howard and dribble penetration?

Or will it be Pau’s amazing arsenal of low post moves? His ability to beat Lewis up down in the paint?

If Rashard Lewis is successful in attacking Pau Gasol, that could force the Lakers to sit Bynum in favour for Odom’s defense on Lewis, and thus forcing Gasol to defend Howard for more minutes than the Lakers really want.

Hedo Turkoglu vs Trevor Ariza

Trevor Ariza is a legit 6-8 and he has incredible length. He’s not Delonte West, Hedo can’t just look over the top of him and see the whole floor and pick out passes easily. He can’t just shoot over the top without a care in the world. Trevor Ariza is a good man-to-man defender and he’s going to be problematic for Hedo.

During the season series, Hedo averaged only 13.5ppg and 5apg. For the Magic to stand a chance of winning, Hedo needs to play better than that.

For the Lakers to stop Orlando’s offense, Ariza needs to contain Hedo. He’s the team’s playmaker, the one who creates the most offensive opportunities for others.

The X-Factor

The Los Angeles Lakers have the biggest X-Factor in the series and that’s Andrew Bynum. Under normal conditions, one would have to consider Bynum too good a player to be an X-Factor, but his indifferent form in the playoffs so far rules that out.

This could easily turn out to be one of those “as Bynum goes, so goes the Lakers” type of situations. He could easily be the reason they win, or the reason they lose.

There is no bigger variable on the table than Andrew Bynum’s form.

Kobe Is Out For Blood

Orlando possess an excellent defender in Courtney Lee and a very good defender in Mickael Pietrus. These two guys will be the two who defend Kobe Bryant.

During the season series, Kobe lit up the Magic for 34.5 points per game. He shot 42% from the field, 38% from three, and got to the free throw line 10 times again. Bryant also added 10.5 rebounds and 7 dimes a night too. He was an unstoppable force. Now for the scary part, Courtney Lee defended him well in those games.

Pietrus is going to enter this series with a major rep as a stopper, a well deserved rep after his efforts on LeBron, but Kobe has played against Pietrus four times a year for five seasons. He’s comfortable against Pietrus, he knows his game and understands how to attack him. Kobe will be a lot more successful against Pietrus than LeBron James was.

I think Kobe Bryant is set for a superb series. I expect him to put up phenomenal performances in this series, and he’s got a great chance of winning his first Finals MVP trophy.

Side Note: Kobe’s Finals scoring stats from previous years. This series will break the mold.

Final Thoughts

I think this is going to be a highly entertaining series full of quality basketball and very competitive games. I’m very excited about this one, and I’m expecting this to be a long series.

It’s anybody’s Championship, either team can win … it’s a coin flip. I consider LA the slight favourites, but only by a nose hair, it’s that close.

I’m going to say LA in 6 or 7 games, with Kobe Bryant putting on a show for the ages.

Side Note: If Jameer Nelson was healthy, I’d be picking Orlando to win in 5 or 6 games. I’ve been doubtful of the Magic without him in the lineup for some time, and I continue to be despite their impressive play.

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  1. Dave,

    This version of the LakeShow is a team for the ages … which would have won 70+ games this season, if Andrew Bynum had not been injured and missed 32 games.

    People need to understand just how significant an achievement LIKE THAT actually is … 65-17, without their starting Center, Andrew Bynum, for 32 games!

    If this series is close, it will be because Phil Jackson “screws” around with the wrong match-ups, as he is want to do on occasion, and sometimes coaches as if he doesn’t fully comprehend the actual “horse-power” he is sitting on, at the moment.

    12 months ago, I picked LA to win the 2008-2009 NBA Title … coinciding with my pick of the Boston Celtics over LA, immediately prior the 2007-2008 NBA Finals, when most everyone else was picking the Lakers [i.e. coming off their victory over San Antonio] … and, nothing which has happened since then indicates that a different outcome is on tap with their match-up vs Orlando.

    Those who think that Lebron James is “the best” player in the world, at the moment, are sadly mistaken.

    When this team has IT in gear, like they did vs Denver, in Game 6 … they are OPEN LENGTHS better than any other team in the NBA, since the legendary 72-10 Chicago Bulls.

    Enjoy them while we can!

    Unfortunately, supernova’s don’t last long in our world. 🙂

  2. Khandor, that’s exactly what i was thinking about phil messing with matchups. All I could think about was him playing Chris Mihm last year. Had me scratching my head at least.

    GREAT analysis Dave. I’m totally with you on the Nelson factor. Even though he may still play, he’s not in game shape.

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