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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Los Angeles Versus Orlando Preview

NBA Finals

Los Angeles (65-17) vs. Orlando (59-23)

Season series: Orlando, 2-0

Orlando can win if…they establish Dwight Howard in the post as a consistent 20-plus ppg threat while also making 9-10 three pointers a game with a three point shooting percentage around the .380-.400 range. Against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals the Magic had wonderful ball movement that generally resulted in an open three point shot for Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu or Mickael Pietrus. They must continue to pass and shoot that effectively in order to beat the Lakers. Defensively, the Magic would like to hold Kobe Bryant to below .450 field goal shooting without allowing too many open shots for his teammates.

Los Angeles will win because…the Lakers will be able to single cover Howard in the post for key stretches, limiting Orlando's ability to go on huge scoring runs fueled by three pointers. The Lakers will put more pressure on Lewis, Turkoglu and Pietrus than the Cavs did, forcing them to either shoot contested jumpers or else put the ball on the floor and make plays. The Magic will have trouble containing Bryant, who is likely to post the highest Finals scoring average of his career, surpassing the 26.8 ppg he scored in the Lakers' 2002 sweep of the New Jersey Nets.

Other things to consider: Last year I picked the Lakers to beat the Celtics in the Finals not because I bought into all of the hype about how deep the Lakers supposedly were but because I did not think that the Celtics would have an effective answer for the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play; that action was a major reason that the Lakers averaged 105.9 ppg on .478 field goal shooting while going 12-3 in the Western Conference playoffs in 2008 but the Celtics swarmed Bryant and forced his teammates to make plays, which they were not able to consistently do.

I don't think that the Magic will be able to contain the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll nearly as effectively as the Celtics did in the 2008 Finals. Even though the Magic won both meetings with the Lakers this season (see below for more details), the Magic struggled to prevent the Lakers from getting good, open shots out of that set, so look for the Lakers to feature it repeatedly. If the Magic respond by swarming Bryant--which they inevitably will have to do at some point--the onus will fall on Gasol to be aggressive while Lamar Odom dives strongly to the hoop from the weakside to either receive feeds for layups or crash the offensive boards and Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar spot up behind the three point line: ironically, a key factor in this series could turn out to be whether or not the Lakers give the Magic a taste of their own medicine by bombarding them with three pointers.

Andrew Bynum will probably spend most of this series in foul trouble but that is not a problem because the Lakers only need to get a good 15-20 mpg out of him. The Lakers must limit Howard's catches in the paint, foul him whenever he is close enough to dunk and then force Howard to guard someone (either Gasol or Bynum) at the other end of the court.

A major X factor in this series is the possible return of Orlando's injured All-Star guard Jameer Nelson, who was expected to be out for the season after injuring his shoulder. Nelson has been working out with the team and there is some speculation that he might play in the Finals. I saw Nelson shooting around at Quicken Loans Arena prior to game five of the Eastern Conference Finals. I did not think that he looked particularly sharp but I have not seen him shoot around often enough to really know if he looked better or worse than normal; he seemed to be in excellent condition and was not noticeably favoring the injured shoulder. He wore a regular game uniform with a shooting shirt over his jersey.

The Magic beat the Lakers 2-0 in the regular season, much like they defeated the Cavs 2-1; I dismissed their record against Cleveland because Nelson played in one Orlando win and the other win took place with Cleveland on a long road trip while the Magic were well rested. Similar extenuating circumstances apply regarding Orlando's wins over the Lakers. The first time the Lakers played the Magic (December 20, 2008) they visited Orlando the night after losing in Miami; Bryant scored a then season-high 41 points but the Magic won, 106-103. The Lakers kept Howard under control (18 points, 12 rebounds) but Nelson shot 11-16 from the field and torched them for 27 points. The Magic visited the Lakers on January 16, 2009; both teams were well rested and Nelson punished the Lakers with 28 points and eight assists in a 109-103 Magic win. Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds but shot just 8-18 from the field and 9-16 on free throws. Bryant had the first of his two triple doubles this season (28 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists); he led the Lakers in all three categories by wide margins and he really played a marvelous game even though he ended up shooting 10-26 from the field--he shot 10-20 in the first 46:44 and 0-6 in the final 1:16 as the Lakers tried to mount a late rally. After that game, I wrote, "Is it good to shoot 10-26 from the field or 0-6 in the last 1:16? Of course not--but a careful examination of those final six shots shows that Bryant made the right plays even though the shots did not go down." You can click on the link and read the rest of the post for a detailed breakdown of those late shot attempts but the point is that the Lakers were able to use the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll to repeatedly and quickly create high percentage shot opportunities, including a Bryant three pointer that went halfway down before coming out. The Magic had a lot of problems guarding Bryant in both games and the Lakers were in position to win on each occasion despite the trouble they had dealing with Nelson.

It may seem strange that I just touted the beginning of the Dwight Howard era yet now I am picking the Lakers to beat the Magic but those are not mutually exclusive propositions; often a great player must first lose in the Finals before eventually triumphing: that was the case for Isiah Thomas, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal, three legends who lost in their first trip to the Finals but went on to win multiple championships. The Lakers have homecourt advantage and a hungry superstar with championship experience who presents a serious matchup problem for the Magic; those factors will be the primary reasons that the Lakers will prevail.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:03 AM

9 comments

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9 Comments:

At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 7:01:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

So, you haven't learned your lesson yet?

Who knows what laker team shows up?The smart aggresive one, or the one that seems satisfied and uninvolved?

Which Lamar will make an appearance?

The Lakers were in each game in the regular season, but so were the Cavs in their series against the Magic and look what that got them...

If the Lakers sleep on the Magic for one game, and they will, they'll lose home court advantage. I'm not sure they can win in Orlando.

Anyway, I'm not betting against the Magic anymore.
They always come to play, as opposed to the Lakers, and they're good enough to take any game.

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 9:37:00 AM, Anonymous dmills said...

David,

I agree that the Lakers should win this series for several reason's not the least of which is that the Magic don't enjoy the height advantage that they enjoyed over the Cavs. When watching the Orlando/Cleveland series I couldn't help but think about your post on why length matters in the NBA. I was also surprised to see that you didn't see that disadvantage on the horizon considering that you had wrote a nice post about that very subject not so long ago! But then again even though I knew Orlando would be a tough out for Cleveland I ultimately thought that the Cavs would prevail by recieving huge performances from James. As it turned out the Magic were able to advance to the finals despite several huge games by James.

I still scratch my head as to why James felt that he had to try to score so much to win this series. I felt that if the Cavs played the same style that got them 66 wins they would have had a chance to play for some jewelery. For what ever reason James sort of flipped the script.

Lastly, although I'm picking Los Angeles to win the title I have to say that I would not be suprised or shocked if Orlando won the series given what they've accomplished thus far.

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 11:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, nice post as usual and I agree. Last year's finals lost and this year's playoffs matchups have really prepared them for this championship and they won't be denied. Add to that Kobe's drive and also Phil's tactics the series should not go far. I also like the Gasol-Lewis matchup, I think Gasol can guard Rashad as well as how he played Mehmet and Dirk and on offense this will be LA advantage. Bynum, Gasol and Mbenga should be able to slow Howard especially since he has to work hard on the other side of the court. Kobe, Odom and Ariza can also drive to the hoop to get Howard to foul. I think the Magic will be like the Lakers of last year's playoff- inexperience and just happy to be in the finals.

Job

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 3:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi:

The Lakers team that smashed Denver in game six is pretty good...

If Odom shows up for even half of the Finals games, Kobe/Gasol can do the rest...

The Cavs actually got blown out once by Orlando in the regular season, though that game did take place in the middle of a road trip for Cleveland. In contrast, both of the Lakers' games versus Orlando came down to the final minute--and that was with Nelson torching the Lakers. It will be interesting to see if Nelson plays in the Finals. Of course, if he is fully healthy he could really help the Magic but otherwise this could turn out to be a distraction for the Magic, because they have been doing very well with the rotation that they have used in the playoffs.

If the Magic "always come to play" then how come they fell behind the Cavs by double digits in several games? The Lakers have had the best record in the West and won back to back conference championships, so they "come to play" pretty frequently.

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 3:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DMills:

Perhaps I did overlook the "length" angle regarding the Cleveland-Orlando series but what actually happened that surprised me the most is that the Cleveland supporting cast that played so well this year almost completely disappeared. If the Cavs had only shot slightly worse than usual--as opposed to much worse--they still would have won this series.

West actually did a very good job against Turkoglu despite the height disadvantage. Lewis had a bigger series than I expected and Pietrus made some very tough shots off of the bench.

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 3:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Job:

The "happy to be there factor" will be interesting to watch; no one admits to this beforehand but after a series is over it becomes evident whether or not this was the case. I think that the 1995 Magic went through that. Some of the Lakers last year--not Kobe or Fisher, who have been there before--may have gone through that.

Certainly, it will be disappointing for the Lakers if they have not learned anything from their Finals experience last year. Orlando is a very good defensive team but not a physical, suffocating defensive team like last year's Celtics, so Gasol and Odom should feel more comfortable than they did against Garnett, Perkins and company.

 
At Wednesday, June 03, 2009 5:38:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

Well, you can't be wrong two years in a row!

Anyway the prediction isn't the thing, your reasoning is sound.

 
At Thursday, June 04, 2009 10:42:00 AM, Anonymous Joel said...

One other thing in the Lakers favour (which you touched on) is that fact that Howard will be in even more danger of foul trouble than usual guarding Bynum or Gasol. At the very least, he will be more reluctant to help on penetration knowing that the man he's leaving is an offensive threat, which wasn't the case against Philadelphia, Boston, and for the most part Cleveland. Since Orlando's defense is built around funnelling drivers into the welcoming arms of Howard, this could be a major problem for them, especially if Bynum plays up to his capabilities. (Bynum is a question mark but as you said he shouldn't be on the court for more than 20 minutes anyway.)

 
At Thursday, June 04, 2009 1:22:00 PM, Anonymous Mark Smrek said...

The Magic could afford slow starts and indifferent play against Cleveland, but the Lakers offense can blow them out, and will at least keep the Lakers close while they do their normal, painfully slow & laborious job figuring out defensive matchups and tendencies and developing intensity. For parts of all these games Fisher will leave shooters to give useless help, Gasol will give indifferent help D and ole Howard to the basket, Bynum will wander around pointlessly, Sasha will get called for fouls 50 ft from the basket, & Kobe will get burned roaming, but the offense will carry them until they sort it out. Unlike Cleveland.

Now, I've heard a lot about the Magic's #1 D and cleveland's offense, etc but I don't take that seriously when they play 2/3rds of their games in the east. (If you dropped the West's 9th seed, Phoenix, into the East they'd have been a 4th seed (you might argue 5 or 6, but no more)). Orlando's D barely faced Denver, Portland, or the Lakers offense.

 

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