Why the Lakers Will Win
Sadly, I’ve rarely had the privilege of being involved in a big game or series, where my favorite team was matched up with a good friend’s favorite. If only I had known Bates in the 90’s, our Cowboys/Niners back and forth could have been legendary. Come to think of it, it may have been for the best since we would have stopped speaking to each other.
But this week I get the rare privilege of not only rooting for my team to win the title, but to also watch my friend and co-author, Dan Miller, wallow in misery as my beloved Los Angeles Lakers take on his Orlando Magic.
We both decided to give you five reasons why our team should win this year’s Finals. Please note that I claim no objectivity. This is going to be pure Laker love.
1) Kobe is the only puppet standing.
There is a reason why the Black Mamba is still around and LeBron isn’t: it’s not his time yet. Kobe has led his team to the Finals for the second consecutive season and though you all say LeBron this, and LeBron that… you would be hard pressed to find a more ruthless warrior in the game. While Lamar Odom is daydreaming and Pau Gasol is yelling out feminine complaints in Spanish, Kobe leaves it all on the floor and he’s the best finisher in the game. No one in the city of Orlando can say the same. While Michael Jordan never lost a Finals, one would be wise to assume that Kobe has the will to single-handedly gut his team to a title if the chance is there.
2) Rashard Lewis has to play defense too.
For as much as Lewis has been touted as an overwhelming x-factor because of his play outside, the most glaring issue is that Lewis has to play defense. He can’t play down low with Gasol (this is pretty much a given), and will be forced to backpedal too often against Odom. While Odom mostly naps and watches the big screen videos during timeouts, when he is motivated, he becomes a potential nightmare. He is one of the best penetrating big men in the game, having an almost LeBron-like motor to the rim. One can expect* that Odom will be motivated in this series, and that spells doom for Lewis, making him an easy target for foul trouble, early and often. Analysts have been way too fixated on the starting lineup matchups and not on the overall matchup issues.
3) Hedo Turkoglu, meet Trevor Ariza.
Ariza has become one of the best wing defenders in the league this season. Not because of a couple of steals against Denver, but because of countless shut-down games against great wings in the Western Conference this season. Compare Turkoglu to the players that Ariza has been forced to match up against and you’ll find he is far slower and less aggressive than the likes of “Crazy Pills” Artest and Carmelo Anthony. Turkoglu does not utilize his height against shorter players because he is mostly a Toni Kukoc-like offensive weapon, operating frequently from the outside and using the drive-and-dish to the tune of nearly five assists per game. Flatly said, if Ariza plays to form, he will eat Turkoglu up and ask for more. He is aggressive and instinctive, and should create opportunities with timely steal attempts while clogging the passing lanes that Turkoglu has to rely upon to be effective.
4) When stifled, the Magic offense is stale and stagnant.
If watching the Orlando offense this season has taught us anything, we have seen that they have only a few basic strategies to lean on…
-They will run pick-and-rolls, which create rotation issues as they move the ball around the arc for an open three-point attempt.
-They will throw the ball into Dwight Howard and hope for him to score or be doubled and kick it out for another open three-point shot.
-They will be forced to abandon both and go to a pre-dominantly individual offense, which happens more than they’d like.
The Lakers will easily win this series if they can force point guard, Rafer Alston, Lewis and Turkoglu to resort to one-on-one moves followed by contested jumpers. Orlando is quick to settle on shots like those when they feel any kind of duress from a defense and the Lakers have the athletes on the perimeter to confound the Magic offense, especially since without Jameer Nelson, they don’t really have a player who can effectively create their own offense. And before you go bashing the Lakers’ three-point defense, check out the top five teams in the NBA for opposition three-point percentage. I’ll give you a hint, the Lakers are in the top three.
5) Howard has yet to face a defense as adaptable as the Lakers.
For all the talk of the Lakers reticence to try (warranted) and their inability to keep a lead (doubly warranted), there is no doubting the fact that Los Angeles adapts and they do it well. Howard hasn’t really had challenges when it comes to talent on either side of the floor in his matchups. The Lakers don’t counter with equal talent, but they do counter with big men of varying skill and tricks who will force Howard to have to constantly re-adjust his own strategy.
The Lakers possess one of the best help defensive schemes in the game, which produces confusion for opposing players – especially big men. Howard will certainly get his, but he will also face spells of confusion and lapses in judgment, which has been how the Lakers have succeeded against teams with superior bigs. Where Howard usually would find open lanes and open teammates, the Lakers will counter with camouflaged traps and rotations that will force him out of his comfort zone. Howard could walk all over Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao but he will not have as easy of a time against Andrew Bynum, Gasol and the 12 fouls between Josh Powell and D.J. Mbenga.
But all of this is moot for now, what matters are the games themselves. For all I know, Orlando sweeps and I cry myself to sleep all summer once again. But before the games begin, I can visualize the ideal and the ideal looks good. Nothing looks better on a Black Mamba than a fourth ring.
My prediction: Alright, I’ll put it on the line. I told Dan that I thought the Magic would win in six, but I needed to cover my reverse jinx obligations. My real prediction is the Lakers in six, only because they want to win the title at home. They’ll win Games One and Two at home, take one in Orlando, and then start the party right after Game Six.
Good run, Dan. Sorry it had to end like this.
* Still likely not to try.