Saturday, May 30, 2009

Initial Finals Thoughts

First off: congratulations to both the Magic and the Lakers. Both of these teams deserve to be exactly where they are, and together form an absolutely worthy pair of potential champions. Further, both teams have gone through an incredible amount to get to where they are now -- Boston, Cleveland, Houston, and Denver would be included in the top six teams in the NBA in every year that I can recall. On that note, Charles Barkley said something during the Cavs-Magic postgame that I think will be lost over the coming days -- that Cleveland's winning the most games during the regular season was a remarkable accomplishment. Take a look at that roster, 2 through 15, and then think about how much credit is due to Mike Brown, Lebron James, and the willingness of all of those role players to put everything into filling their roles perfectly.

Also, regarding the Magic: please ignore any talk that suggests that their being here is a fluke. Further, I would like to suggest the following statement for further discussion. It is currently an incomplete thought, but I think it is a starting point for something productive: Jameer Nelson is to the 2009 NBA playoffs as Andrew Bynum was to the 2008 playoffs.

Finally, before we begin an ongoing discussion of the Lakers-Magic matchup, we should take a moment to give credit to Mr. Courtney Lee. A rookie. Think about that, for a moment. All season, and throughout the playoffs, this young man has been exactly what Orlando has needed, and we just don't see that from a rookie.

Ok, so what is there to say about Lakers-Magic? We'll hopefully continue to talk about the matchups up until Game 1 on June 4th, and throughout what should be a fascinating series. In the meantime, here are some initial thoughts.

Rebounding: As is often the case with the Lakers, the rebounding battle should be an enlightening one. During the regular season, the Lakers were the 3rd best offensive rebounding team in the league, while the Magic were the 2nd best defensive rebounding team in the league. If the Magic are able to limit the Lakers' second-chance points, they have a chance of slowing down an incredibly impressive offense -- during the regular season the Magic were one of the best teams in the league at defending the two most efficient areas on the court -- the three point line and the area closest to the basket (the Magic's success in both of these areas is evidence backing up Dwight Howard's choice as Defensive Player of the Year: discuss). The Magic's ability to defend efficient shot attempts without compromising their team defensive positioning (they are able to defend most positions without having to collapse and leave open shooters, thanks to Dwight Howard's ownership of the paint) allows them to be in position to rebound to finish out defensive posessions. So, for instance, the Magic held the 76ers -- the second best offensive rebounding team in the league during the regular season, to retrieving just 21% of their own misses in the playoffs, far below average.

And individual matchups? A couple of quick thoughts: Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza are as well-suited to guarding the Magic's nightmare forward lineup of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis as anyone in the league. Those guys will present mismatches no matter what, but against the Lakers, that effect should be minimized. At the other end, while I admire what Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus have accomplished this year, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Kobe Bryant is uniquely suited to destroying the Magic defense.

The real story will be Dwight Howard on offense. During the playoffs, he has shown growth at that end, to the point where you can no longer count on being able to force him into turnovers with unexpected doubles (he's been making better and better passes), or being able to effectively single-cover him (Kendrick Perkins was able to do this, but there aren't any Lakers with Perkins' ability as a post-defender).

We'll have some more complete thoughts up here in the coming days, but I wanted to start the discussion right away. If you have any thoughts, leave them below.

Predictions? I'll go Lakers, in 5 or 6.

1 comment:

  1. McFruity, it is necessary that I have disagreement with your initial prediction. While you present the points that are of interest, the offensive spacing of the Magic will cause some problems for the Lakers' defense. I do not know who will emerge as a victor, but this series has the looks of a six or seven game series. Also, love the Dick's Liquor picture.