It’s not all about the stars, It’s not all about the Gold Medal winners Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard in the NBA Finals, no matter what the people at Vitaminwater want to tell you. It’s the other four players on the court that will ultimately decide who gets to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy.
That said, when you look at the keys to game one, it starts with those stars. Here are five things to look for.
1. How Do The Lakers Defend Dwight Howard. Howard is one of the best centers on the planet, don’t double team him and he scores. A lot. But double team him and his teammates get all sorts of open looks from three point range (and other places) that they will hit. Cleveland doubled Howard in the post and paid the price. The Lakers, however, with Andrew Bynum and even Pau Gasol have better post defenders than Cleveland. Phil Jackson has said he is not going to double-team Howard, so Bynum needs to be strong and stay out of foul trouble.
2. How Do The Magic Defend Kobe Bryant. Everyone knows that Kobe Bryant can dominate a game on offense and score seemingly at will. Rural farmers in Taiwan know this. Last round having to deal with LeBron James the Magic went with a theory of letting James get his but don’t let anyone else beat you. It worked. The Lakers, however, have far better other scoring options outside their star than Cleveland. Kobe needs to make Orlando pay for their strategy both by scoring and passing to teammates.
3. Pau Gasol vs. Rashard Lewis. This may be the key matchup of the series — Gasol is way too much for Lewis and will score on him when he posts up. Lewis is a deadly three point shooter and Gasol is not a great defender out on the perimeter. Both teams will want to exploit this matchup, whichever player can adapt and adjust better on the defensive end and slow his opponent will give his team a big edge.
4. Jameer Nelson. Orlando beat the Lakers in both regular season meetings, and it was largely because of Nelson, the All Star point guard. Nelson averaged 27.5 points a game and did all the late scoring in the Orlando wins. He has been out since February with shoulder surgery, but has looked good in practice and is expected to suit up in this series. The Lakers struggle to defend quick point guards like Nelson, but how good a shape can be in and how good can his timing and shooting be after four months off then having to come back in the highest level of basketball he has ever had to play? If he can play near his pre-injury level, he can swing this series.
5. Home Court and Experience. The Lakers made it to the Finals last year and as a franchise have been to the Finals 30 times. This is the first time the Magic as a team have been there since 1995 and their team is short on championship level experience. When the pressure is on at the end of games, will the Lakers be the team that understands how to step up on the biggest stage? Did they learn the lessons of the loss to Boston in last year’s finals?
Bet you they did, and they win the series in six games.
Kurt Helin has the home court advatage at his blog, Forum Blue & Gold.