Starring: The Gasol Mismatch, Dwight Howard’s Minutes, Magic’s 3-Point Shooting, Stan Vs. Phil, Hype, Intensity, Kobe Vs, Lee/Pietrus and The Jameer Factor
THE GASOL MISMATCH – As an Orlando Magic fan, the Pau Gasol matchup scares me. Critics call him soft but I’m not buying it. Pau’s a 7-foot Spaniard who has averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds in the playoffs, also his career averages. When the Lakers pillaged the Memphis Grizzlies last season to add Gasol to their roster, L.A. became immediate contenders. He’s a big reason the Lakers have consecutive Finals appearances. Kobe can’t do it by himself. So how will Orlando defend him? Los Angeles runs their triangle offense through Gasol. Rashard Lewis is a long 6’10 but probably can’t stick Gasol in the post. Lewis’s best bet will be to keep Gasol honest when he’s on the defensive end. If the Lakers are able to set an offensive rhythm through Gasol, it could be a long series for Orlando.
Game One result: As expected, Gasol was a steady 16 and 8, going 7-of-12 from the floor and only missing shots when he rushed them.
DWIGHT HOWARD’S MINUTES – The Magic will likely not be able to win this series without Superman providing a MAJOR contribution in the middle. Dwight was overpowering in Game Six against the Cavaliers, scoring 40 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Yes, the Magic closed out the 76ers without Howard in the lineup but the Lakers are no Philadelphia. Dwight will not only have to log serious minutes, but do so efficiently while facing more effective double-teams. That includes shooting a high percentage from the floor, free throw line and playing smart defensively. Dwight has spent much of these playoffs on the bench for silly fouls . Expect Phil Jackson to go at Dwight every chance he gets.
Game One result: Dwight played most of the first quarter until picking up his second foul with two minutes left. He logged 35 minutes for the game but they weren’t efficient, shooting 1-6 from the floor. He got to the stripe 16 times but only finished with 12 points.
MAGIC’S 3-POINT SHOOTING – Orlando can be deadly from the perimeter. To paraphrase Cavalier Mo Williams “It seemed like they shot 100% from three for the entire series.” Anybody on the Magic roster can shoot from distance. Lewis, Turkoglu, Alston, Reddick and Pietrus are all shooting over 35%. The Magic are at their best when they’re taking threes in the flow of the game. It spreads out the offense and makes them very difficult to cover. They’re at their worst when they’re forcing shots.
Game One result: The Magic shot 35% (8-23) for the game but hit cold stretches and took many of those shots out of the flow of their offense. For example, the Magic were 1-of-2 in the first quarter when they were in many respects in control of the game.
STAN VS. PHIL – In a pre-game press conference, one sportswriter asked Magic coach Stan Van Gundy if he was intimidated by Phil Jackson. Van Gundy answered “Why? Is he going to come kick my ass?” Van Gundy acknowledged obvious respect for the Zen Master. It’s hard not to for a coach that has championship rings for every finger but one. Jackson has made his mark over the years with timely substitutions and creative adjustments. Expect more of the same against Orlando. Van Gundy has preached the disrespect card all playoffs and it’s paid off. Four more Gipper-like speeches and he could pull off the impossible.
Game One result: Jackson played his entire bench although some of it in mop-up time. Van Gundy’s going to have to do his best to ensure his players put this one behind them.
HYPE – Both cities house Mickey Mouse but Orlando doesn’t feature quite the glitter of tinsel town. Church Street is no Rodeo Drive. The Magic have remained level-headed throughout the playoffs in the face of controversy. They’ll need to maintain their composure in this series. They can’t let the glamour of L.A. and the presence of Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington and Dyan Cannon (is she still famous?) psyche them out. Kobe is the biggest star they should be worrying about.
Game One result: I saw Jack and Denzel, but no Dyan. Perhaps John Cougar should rewrite his 80s classic.
INTENSITY – The Lakers want this one bad! The last two times Kobe and Phil made the Finals, they came home empty-handed. The Magic cannot just be happy to be there. Second place is the first loser. If they don’t match L.A.’s intensity, the Lakers could make quick work of them
Game One result: One down, three to go.
KOBE VS. LEE/PIETRUS – Can they stop him? Can they contain him? Can they not become mesmerized by him? Kobe’s going to get his. He always does. Lee, although a rookie, is not easily intimidated. Pietrus is French so he probably already thinks he’s better than Kobe. The trick might be how much Kobe can involve his teammates when double-teamed. Kobe logging major numbers in both points and assists is a lose-lose situation for Orlando.
Game One result: Kobe manhandled both Lee and Pietrus. He went 40-8-8, while shooting 16-34 from the floor and reminding viewers he’s the best player in the game.
THE JAMEER FACTOR – The Magic’s all-star point guard went down mid-season with a torn labrum. Rafer Alston and Anthony Johnson have filled in well in his absence. After recovering sooner than expected, Orlando announced they would activate Nelson for the Finals. As if Van Gundy didn’t have enough to worry about in matching up with the Lakers, now he may have to adjust his guard rotations. Will playing Nelson be the right thing to do?
Game One result: Nelson started off well but one can’t help but wonder whether messing with the rotation and chemistry was detrimental to the team.