Cramming For The Finals
By Jeff Falconio
I'm going to get my NBA Finals prediction out of the way early: Lakers in five. It seems like everyone is saying it'll go six or seven games. Six is always a safe bet. Four is too bold. Seven is too sappy. So I'm saying LA in five. Right away we can eliminate the goofy "Orlando swept the season series" talk. The Magic had a healthy Jameer Nelson rounding into midseason form when Orlando won those two games. Nelson will be active tonight but he's sure to be rusty and I can't imagine he'll be able to put up the same numbers he did during the regular season meetings.
Obviously there will be a lot of attention paid to Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, but how this series will be won or lost (or as the NBA would put it, where amazing needs to happen for either team to win) will come down to the role players. The Kobe-LeBron thing would've been nice but the Magic have more balance and that opens up a lot more strategy. The Lakers have solid depth and they made need it if Andrew Bynum gets into foul trouble defending Howard. Which Lamar Odom will show up? How will Orlando's sharpshooters fare? Will Nelson even be effective? These are questions that wouldn't be asked if Cleveland won the East. All anyone would be focusing on would be Kobe and LeBron. But in this series, Los Angeles is too potent outside of Kobe. I haven't even mentioned Pau Gasol. If Orlando doesn't contain him this series will be over quickly.
I can't imagine there's a more confident team than the Magic but confidence only goes so far. At this level, experience is usually needed. The Lakers have it. They have the experience, the depth, and yes, even a bit of coaching (from a man who has yet to win a title without the services of Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal). That trumps any confidence the Magic have or any boost they might get from Nelson.