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NBA Finals Preview and Pick
NBA Finals Preview and Pick
NBA Finals Preview and Pick
By ASHTON GREWAL
Orlando Magic (+240) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-260): Matchup stats and trends
Remember that sticker Dwight Howard plastered three feet high on the backboard in the 2007 dunk contest? The NBA might want to ask Howard if they can use some of those to cover up LeBron James’ face in all their artwork for the 2009 NBA Finals.
Yes, Superman and the Magic made me – and a few other ignorant fools – look silly by easily dispelling of the league’s best regular season team and, up to the conference finals, best postseason team.
Orlando has knocked off the defending champs and the prematurely appointed 2009 champs in successive rounds. Pretty impressive for a club coached by a man who’s been accused of breathing into a paper bag during crunch time.
Can the Magic actually pull off the hat trick and hoist the NBA title in two weeks’ time?
Let’s break down all the categories and see where we stand afterwards:
Rafer Alston is playing better than even Orlando GM Otis Smith could have hoped for. He’s doing a great job limiting turnovers and, at the same time, still pushing the pace to get good looks in transition for the open 3-pointer.
Backup Anthony Johnson doesn’t do anything to hurt you coming off the bench, but the Magic’s real strength is their ability to hand the point position over to small forward Hedo Turkoglu in the fourth quarter.
All that we’ve seen for the Lakers point guards is that Derek Fisher will be out of the league in a year’s time and Jordan Farmer has a bad case of nerves. (Have you seen all the silly travels he’s been called for? It’s a classic case of someone trying too hard and thinking too much at the same time.)
I like what a see from Shannon Brown, but he really shouldn’t play more than 15 or 20 minutes a game.
Do I really have to write anything here? Kobe Bryant vs. Courtney Lee/Mickael Pietrus?
As much as you have to love the improvement Trevor Ariza has made to his game, especially his shooting touch, the Magic’s versatility at this position gives them the lead.
This is a tough one.
You know what you’ve got with the Lakers. Pau Gasol is a stud while Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom’s production comes in peaks and valleys.
Dwight Howard was an unstoppable force in the East finals against Cleveland, but the Celtics made him look like a mediocre star (at best) in the previous series.
Howard should do a good job defending Gasol in the low block but I expect Phil Jackson will foresee this and have his All-Star big man catch the ball in the high post.
This will limit Howard’s ability to block shots and at the same time allow Gasol to showcase his passing skills.
Rashard Lewis presents a different type of challenge. I thought Odom’s length would be used to guard Carmelo Anthony but Jackson left that task to Ariza and Bryant.
When the Lakers go with Gasol and Odom in the frontcourt, Gasol won’t have much – if any help guarding Howard. Odom will have to respect the shooting prowess of Lewis, who lives around the 3-point arc.
If Howard hits his free throws like he did in Game 6 against the Cavs (12 for 16), Orlando gets the check mark in this department. Since I don’t think he’ll continue to shoot at 75 percent clip, I’ll give a mini advantage to the Lakers in a near toss up category.
Phil Jackson gets the nod in the coaching department. I love Stan Van Gundy’s tenacity but Phil’s rings speak for themselves. (If you get close enough to them you can hear them faintly saying, "Kiss me.")
The Lakers’ bench production – or lack thereof – has been an issue all season long. Pietrus, Johnson and Marcin Gortat aren’t household names but they do their jobs when they get on the court.
The leadership and experience factor is where I lean heavily towards the Lakers. Los Angeles went to the Finals last year and lost as favorites to the Celtics. Bryant may not be a great teammate but he commands the attention and respect of his mates in the huddle.
There’s no question the players wearing the Purple and Gold fear Kobe’s glares and tongue lashings like they fear their mama’s wooden spoon.
Alright the home-court advantage, leadership and experience make the Lakers the right choice. Naysayers will quickly point out that the Magic won both regular season meetings against L.A., but don’t forget that injured Magic point guard Jameer Nelson was a big factor in both those games.
Van Gundy has really impressed me with his play calling coming out of timeouts. The Magic normally always get good looks on their offensive possessions late in games.
Still, the Lakers have the second best closer I’ve ever seen spin a Spalding.
Pick: Lakers in seven
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
Disney World vs. Disneyland
Orlando winning the Eastern Conference Finals series 4-2 sending James and the Cavaliers into summer storage may have wrecked the much anticipated Kobe-LeBron NBA dream finals but we do get an all Disney Finals featuring Orlando's monster of the midway Dwight Howard and Kobe.
Magic got their shot on the big stage winning 12-of-19 (11-8 ATS) playoff games. Split between 7-2 (6-3 ATS) at home, 5-5 (5-5 ATS) on the highway the Magic managed 98.5 PPG while surrendering 93.7 PPG. Orlando shy in post season experience the past five+ years enter the finals 17-16 (17-15-1 ATS) it's last thirty-three winning 11-of-16 (9-7 ATS) on home court, 6-of-17 (8-8-1 ATS) on the road.
Lakers took eighteen games to reach their second consecutive finals winning 8-of-10 (5-5 ATS) at Staples Center, 4-of-8 on the highway (4-4 ATS). Kobe and company have put up 102.9 PPG thus far surrendering 96.2 PPG. Lakers are now 43-30 (34-37-2 ATS) it's last seventy-three in post season including a powerful 31-6 at home (19-17-1 ATS) but a miserable 12-24 (15-20-1 ATS) traveling.
The Magician's of Orlando will be a tricky bunch for the Lakers, keep in mind it didn't matter who the Lakers had against the Magic this season, Orlando won 106-103 at home as 1.5 point underdogs in December despite 41 points from Bryant, then pulled out a 109-103 victory at the Staples Center as 4.5 point dogs in January behind Superman's 25 points, 20 rebounds.
For those keeping track of home team wins this post season, they're 54-26 along with a 41-37-2 mark at the betting window winning by 4.2 points per game. Home favorites of -6.5 or less posted a 21-22-1 ATS mark with a winning margin of 2.93 PPG.
Final note: The past five NBA Finals home teams were 21-7 (17-11 ATS) with 6.5 or less point faves 14-3 (12-5 ATS) defeating visitors by 11.1 PPG
Sportsbooks have made the experienced Lakers 6-point favorites for game one on Thursday.
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
NBA Finals Game 1 and Series Preview
By: Speculating Sports
This series is a very interesting match-up between two teams that have brought questionable efforts at times in the playoffs. They played each other twice this season, once in December and once in January. Orlando won both games, one at Los Angeles, and one at home. However, Jameer Nelson was a very key contributor in both games, so his absence could hurt the Magic’s chances. There are rumors about him possibly seeing playing time in this series, but his minutes won’t be much even if he does play. In fact, I think Nelson seeing any playing time would be a detriment to the Magic, as their rotation and minutes have been set throughout the playoffs. His addition would throw everyone off rhythm in my opinion, especially since Nelson would arguably be very rusty. One factor in this series, especially Game 1, could be the extended layoff between games. This series will be very spread out, and each team could come out sluggish in Game 1. They will be looking to see what adjustments and changes their opponents have made, and their offenses probably won’t be at their peak. A good play to consider might be a 1st half under selection, especially with such a high game total. From a series perspective, I would caution against loading up on the Lakers to win the series. The payout isn’t very good for the amount of risk involved. Orlando won both games against LA this season, and Dwight Howard will cause the Lakers problems down low. However, Los Angeles will have home court advantage, which prevents me from making a selection on Orlando. Overall I think Los Angeles will win this series if they can contain Orlando’s three point shooters, but the Magic’s three point sharp shooters make this series somewhat unpredictable. If they are hot from downtown, then they will win this series. However, the extended layoff between games may throw their three point shooting rhythm off, and Los Angeles has been able to shut down opposing teams three point shooters in the playoffs.
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
NBA Finals Preview - Magic vs. Lakers
By: Steve Merril
The NBA Finals begin this Thursday, June 4th in Los Angeles. Below is a look at some key numbers in the matchup between the Lakers and Magic.
This was the regular season scoring average for Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson who averaged 16.7 points in the 42 games he played in before injuring his shoulder against Dallas on February 2nd. Nelson was ruled out for the rest of the season after having surgery on February 19th, however the Magic’s extended playoff run has given him extra recovery time and the team might now activate him for the NBA Finals.
“It’s up in the air. We’ll see how Jameer looks the next few days,” said Orlando general manager Otis Smith. “There’s a litany of tests he'll have to pass. His health is the main thing. We’re not going to mortgage his future.”
Nelson’s status is important as he was the key factor in Orlando’s 2-0 regular season sweep of the Lakers. Nelson was the team’s leading scorer in both games with 27 points on December 20th and 28 points on January 16th. He was especially strong from three-point range, going 7-for-12 (58%) from beyond the arc.
Nelson is currently listed as questionable on the injury report. “Would I like to play? Of course. I’m a competitor,” Nelson said. “But I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize me long-term.”
While Nelson’s numbers were impressive, the best player in the two regular season meetings was Kobe Bryant who led the Lakers in scoring in both games with a combined 69 points. This works out to 34.5 points per game which was above Kobe’s regular season average of just 26.8 points per game and his current playoff average of 29.6 ppg this spring.
The old adage that “defense wins championships” could easily be changed to “offense wins championships” as the Lakers are a perfect 9-0 straight-up in the playoffs this season when they score more than 103 points in a game and they are 2-1 straight-up the three times they’ve scored exactly 103 points. When scoring 102 points or less, the Lakers have gone just 1-5 straight-up and against the spread this postseason.
This is a complete mismatch from a historical perspective as the Lakers are now playing for their 15th championship in franchise history and they are appearing in their 30th NBA Finals. Meanwhile, this is only the second time in franchise history that the Magic are playing for the title. In fact, the Magic have only been in the league for 21 seasons after joining as an expansion team in 1989.
Dwight Howard has now achieved a double-double in 28 of his 32 career playoff games, including 17 of his 18 postseason games this year. The only game he failed to achieve a double-double was the Game 3 home win versus Cleveland in which Howard had 24 points, but only 9 rebounds. Overall, he leads the team in both scoring (21.7 ppg) and rebounding (15.4 rpg) this postseason.
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
Orlando and Los Angeles Betting Trends
By: Craig Trapp
The NBA brass wanted the dream matchup Kobe vs Lebron but Orlando would have no part of it upsetting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Championship. The Lakers will have the home court advantage but Orlando has overcame the advantage in the last two series. In the regular season Orlando swept the LA Lakers and also covered the spread in both games. Series prices have LA as a favorite at -260 and Orlando as underdog at +210. Game 1 line opens with LA as a 6 point favorite and the total of 206. Today Craig is going to breakdown the recent betting trends for the Magic and Lakers.
The Magic have been great against the spread going 7-1 the last eight games. Not only were they covering the spread but they were killing the spread covering by an average of 7 points. The over total has also been hot for Orlando as they have gone over 5 of last 6 games. Orlando was almost as big as underdog against Cleveland as they are against LA but obviously that won't discourage the Magic. For Orlando backers if you like there series price of +210 or +240 for game 1 there is great value in this super hot underdog team.
The Lakers have been the odds on favorite to win the NBA Championship since week 1 of the regular season. LA has not played consistently well throughout the playoffs which is definitely shown in Lakers spread record of 5-5 the last 10 games. But the Lakers have played much better the last 4 winning 3 of 4 games both straight up and against the line. The high powered Lakers have surprisingly been a great under totals play the last 10 games going 8-2. Not great betting value if you are an a LA backer but to be fair they have been about this price for a month. The value is definitely in the total if you think LA can continue to play shut down defense.
This series have two teams with opposite betting trends, so the real question starts for all handicappers. Can Orlando keep the hot three point shooting and force over totals and against the spread covers?? Can LA continue there defensive improvement and shut down Orlando's outside shooting?
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
By Kevin Rogers
**No. 1 Los Angeles vs. No. 3 Orlando**
Series Price: Los Angeles -250 Denver +200
Series Format: 2-3-2
The NBA Finals is set, but it's not the dream matchup commissioner David Stern was hoping for. LeBron James will be sitting at home watching Kobe Bryant's Lakers battle Dwight Howard and the Magic. This is the second consecutive season Phil Jackson's team has advanced to the Finals, and the sixth Finals appearance for Bryant. Since 1991, Jackson has led his teams (Lakers and Bulls) to the Finals twelve times including this year, winning nine championships. On the flip side, Stan Van Gundy is making his first appearance as head coach in the Finals, after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals with Miami in 2005. The Magic are playing in their second NBA Finals in franchise history, after getting swept by the Houston Rockets in 1995.
The road to the championship is never easy, and the Magic and Lakers are certainly no exception. Orlando dropped the opener of their first round series to Philadelphia on a last-second shot by Andre Iguodala, but bounced back to capture four of the next five games, eliminating the Sixers. The Magic's next task was to eliminate the defending champion Celtics. Orlando split the first two games in Boston, then split the next two in Orlando to make the series a best-of-three. Boston overcame a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes of Game 5 at home to take a 3-2 series lead over Orlando, but the Magic grabbed a Game 6 victory at home, before blowing out the C's in Beantown in the deciding Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland. All Orlando needed was to win one game at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers had lost two games all season, and that mandatory victory was the Game 1 win in which Rashard Lewis drilled a three-pointer to put the Magic ahead for good in the final seconds. LeBron's buzzer-beater in Game 2 gave Cleveland life, but Orlando won three of the next four, with all three wins coming at home to advance to the Finals.
The Lakers coasted through the first round, knocking out the Jazz in five games, with the lone defeat coming by two points. Los Angeles overcame a Game 1 home loss in the second round to Houston to down the Rockets in seven games, but it was one of the more odder series you will see. Six of the seven games were decided by at least 12 points, as the Rockets took the Lakers to the limit despite losing center Yao Ming for the final four games with an injured left foot. Bryant averaged 27.4 ppg in the first two series, but Kobe saved his best for last. Bryant scored 34 points a game in L.A.'s six-game series victory over Denver in the Western Conference Finals, including a 35-point, 10-assist effort in the series clinching win on Friday night.
The Magic swept the season series from the Lakers, taking both games by a combined nine points. Orlando topped Los Angeles on Dec. 20 at Amway Arena, 106-103 as 1 1/2-point underdogs, while eclisping the total of 205 1/2. The Lakers owned a nine-point lead at halftime, and were led by Bryant's game-high 41 points, but the Magic rallied with a 36-point third quarter, including 15 points from Jameer Nelson to take the lead heading into the final quarter. Howard sank late free throws to help cap his 18-point, 12-rebound night, as the Magic drilled 12 three-pointers. The loss by the Lakers was their ninth in a row against the spread, as they would eventually drop another game ATS, before snapping that skid with a straight-up 'dog win at New Orleans. To be fair, the Lakers were favored by double-digits eight times during that 10-game stretch.
The second time around at Staples Center, the Magic were in the midst of one of the most impressive road trips in recent memory. Orlando won at San Antonio, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Denver in the span of a week. The Kings may stick out like a sore thumb in that group of teams, but the Magic drilled an NBA record 23 three-pointers in a 139-107 thrashing of Sacramento. Following that butt-kicking, the Magic traveled down I-5 and beat the Lakers 109-103 on Jan. 16. The Lakers lost as 4 1/2-point favorites, while the game stayed 'under' the total of 215. Once again, the Lakers squandered a halftime lead, this time giving away an eight-point lead at the intermission. Orlando exploded for 65 second-half points, and hit 12 shots from beyond the arc in total, helping the Magic to the six-point victory. Howard was dominant in the middle, grabbing 20 rebounds and scoring 25 points. Bryant compiled a triple-double, putting up 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. The one constant in the two Orlando victories over Los Angeles, besides the terrific three-point shooting, was the Lakers shooting less than 41% from the floor in the two losses.
The Magic began the postseason covering four of their first 11 games, but Orlando has hit pointspread gold recently, cashing seven of their past eight tickets. Orlando will be catching points the first two in Los Angeles, as Van Gundy's team is 6-3 ATS as an underdog in the playoffs, with a 5-3 ATS mark in the road 'dog role. The Magic are 32-19 SU/ATS on the road this season, with a 16-6 ATS record as a road 'dog. Orlando is a solid 15-4 ATS when getting points on the road when coming off a SU win.
The Lakers have been a flip of the coin ATS this postseason, going 9-9 against the spread, with a 7-8 ATS mark as a favorite. Los Angeles is a money-burning 25-26 ATS as a home favorite, and 17-21 ATS as home 'chalk' coming off a win. The Lakers have barely profited on the road, covering 26 of 49 games, but keep an eye on the Purple and Gold as a road 'dog when the series shifts to Orlando, as L.A. is 9-2 ATS and 8-3 SU when getting points on the road.
Over the last decade, the team that hosted the first two games of the Finals has won the title eight times. The two teams in this stretch that went on the road to start the series and took home the title were the 2004 Pistons and the 2006 Heat. The Lakers have been a good fade in the first two games of the NBA Finals in the Jackson regime. Los Angeles is 2-7-1 ATS the first two games of the Finals their last five apperances dating back to 2000, including a 1-4 ATS mark in Finals openers.
Since the inception of 2-3-2 format in 1985, the home team has won the first two games 12 times, including each of the last four seasons. The task for Orlando to steal the first two games on the road will be difficult as that feat has been accompished only twice, with Chicago winning the opening two in Phoenix back in 1993, and Houston grabbing the first two in Orlando in 1995. Even if the Lakers split the first two games at home, they're still in good shape from a historic standpoint. Ten times since the 2-3-2 format began the home team has split the first two games, but in seven instances the home team still ended up winning the series. Winning the middle three games at home is never easy, as the '04 Pistons and '06 Heat are the only ones to accomplish that feat, something the Magic may be faced with assuming they don't win the first two at Staples.
Going into Game 1 on Thursday, the Lakers are a solid 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS on at least three days rest, while the Magic are only 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS. Eight of the last 11 Finals series openers have finished 'under' the total, including last year's 'under' in Boston's 98-88 victory (total was set at 191.5).
The Lakers were the favorite to win last year's series against the Celtics, only to lose in six games. It doesn't get easier this time around for L.A., battling an Orlando team that topped them twice this season. From a motivation standpoint, Bryant still wants to prove that he can win a title without the aid of Shaquille O'Neal. Jackson and Bryant have been here before, while the stage lights up for the first time for Van Gundy, Howard, and Lewis. Does that mean the Magic will be overwhelmed by the spotlight? No. To put things in proper perpective, the Magic needed seven games to beat a Celtics team without Kevin Garnett, while the argument is now valid that LeBron has very little supporting cast to win a championship. I'll take the Lakers to win this series in six games.
The Lakers come into the Finals as a -250 favorite to win the series (Bet $250 to win $100), while the Magic are +200 to win their first title (Bet $100 to win $200).
As far as exact games bets go, for the Lakers to sweep the series, the odds are 8/1, while L.A. is 6/1 to claim the title in five games. The 6/1 odds are interesting since the Lakers would need to win at least two road games in order to clinch in five. If you feel the Lakers will win in six or seven games, the odds are 5/2 (Bet $100 to win $250). On the Orlando side of things, for the Magic to sweep Kobe's Lakers, the odds are 23/1, while Orlando is 10/1 to take the series in five games. The payoff for the Magic to win the series in six or seven games is 9/1.
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
Handicapping the Finals
By Chris David
The NBA Finals tip off Thursday and even though the majority of sports fans wanted to see Kobe Bryant and LeBron James square off in the finale, the battle between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers is the better matchup.
With only a possibility of seven games left to wager on, let’s take a closer look on how you can make some money in the final best-of-seven series and things to think about when wagering over the next couple weeks.
After cashing tickets as a 5/1 underdogs (Bet $100 to win $500) against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the oddsmakers have given the Magic some respect. The Lakers have been installed as minus-250 (Bet $250 to win $100) favorites at Sportsbook.com, while backers can ride Orlando to the bank again at a plus-200 price (Bet $100 to win $200).
Los Angeles was a minus-200 favorite (Bet $200 to win $100) last year against the Celtics and we know how that turned out as Boston captured the title.
According to our NBA Finals History, the Eastern and Western Conferences have alternated championships the last six seasons.
Will the West keep the trend going?
Exact Series Result
For those of you not familiar with this future wager, it’s pretty simple. Just predict what team will win the best-of-seven series and in how many games, with 4, 5, 6 and 7 being the only choices.
It’s also a much smarter bet in terms of risk vs. reward.
Exact Series Results from Sportsbook.com
Magic 4 Games 23-1
Magic 5 Games 10-1
Magic 6 Games 9-1
Magic 7 Games 9-1
Lakers 4 Games 8-1
Lakers 5 Games 6-1
Lakers 6 Games 5-2
Lakers 7 Games 5-2
Looking at the odds above, you can actually find yourself value and limit your risk compared to playing the Lakers on the series price. L.A. has won its three postseason series this year in five (Utah), seven (Houston) and six (Denver) games. The Magic have captured a pair of series in six games (76ers, Cavs) and also faced one seven-game series (Celtics), winning the decisive battle on the road too.
The Lakers’ Phil Jackson has won nine championships as a head coach, three coming in Los Angeles and six with Chicago but he has lost his last two visits to the finale. In his nine trips to the NBA Finals, the legendary coach has never faced a Game 7. Perhaps this is the year he gets tested in a decisive battle.
Orlando has only been to the NBA Finals once and it was swept by the Houston Rockets in the 1994 season.
Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has been in 10 playoff series with the Magic and the Miami Heat and owns a 7-3 record, more importantly he’s never been swept.
The NBA Finals switched to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, hoping to ease the travel of teams, media, league officials and whoever else was following the best-of-seven series. While it seemed like the right move and still does in some eyes, you can easily see that ABC is making the schedule of the finals and not the NBA.
All of the games will be played on Tuesday (3,6), Thursday (1,4,7) and/or Sunday (5) but the days between the battles make no sense. The Lakers and Magic will get two days off between Game 1-2 and 4-5, but only one-day breaks between 2-3, 3-4 and 6-7. So after playing two on the West Coast, the two clubs will get one day to relax before heading back to Florida? And if necessary, the same situation happens again if they head back to California?
The Lakers will have six days off after finishing off the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals last Friday. On three-days of rest or more, Los Angeles owns a 7-1 straight up and 6-2 against the spread record. The Magic have gone 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS in the same situation.
On just one day off, both the Lakers (45-15 SU, 26-34 ATS) and Magic (43-19 SU, 37-25 ATS) have been productive during the season.
And with two days to prepare, Van Gundy’s team has posted a 15-3 SU and 12-5-1 ATS ledger while the Lakers are just as good at 11-2 SU and 8-5 ATS.
Most Valuable Player
Betting on the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player doesn’t always provide the best value, and the top players usually claim the honor. However, you can take some chances and sometimes you can get lucky according to VI’s Managing Editor Brian Edwards.
He explained, “I think you undoubtedly stay away from betting Kobe as the minus-300 favorite at Brobury Sports. Even if he does win MVP honors, you have to risk a ridiculous $300 just to bring home $100. We had a similar situation with San Antonio’s Tim Duncan two years ago at minus-300 and Tony Parker ended up winning the hardware at 4/1 odds.”
“I think you come with a moderate-to-strong wager on Dwight Howard at plus-300 odds (risk $100 to win $300). Then you get a small taste of Rashard Lewis (16/1) and/or Hedo Turkoglu (14/1). I think those numbers for Lewis and Turkoglu are extremely attractive. Both guys have shown a propensity to knock down big shots at crunch time. You had Turkoglu draining that game winner at Philadelphia when Orlando was in serious trouble in that first-round series. Lewis hit the money shot in Game 1 at Cleveland and who knows how that series plays out if he missed that attempt?”
“The longshots for the Lakers just aren’t that appealing to me. Even if you want to take a shot with Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, you still have to believe that the “bigs” are going to be saddled with foul trouble a lot in dealing with Howard in the lane.”
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
NBA Finals Preview
By: Big Al McMordie
Cleveland.com said it best: “It's time to put the puppets away. There will be no LeBron James-Kobe Bryant NBA Finals.” It looked like a shoo-in for the top two seeds to meet, setting up a Kobe/LeBron Finals. But once the Eastern Conference Finals began, you could see the Magic were a terrific team that matched up very well with the Cavs. In Game 1, Orlando shot 55% and stole the first game as a +9 dog against what had been the best defensive team in the regular season.
They continued to top 100 points and shoot lights-out because they matched up so well in the frontcourt. The final Game 6 win, 103-90, was no longer a shock or a big upset. The bigger, better team won.
So now what? The No. 3 seeded Magic take on the No. 1 seed in the West, the Lakers, for the title. At first glance, it’s the battle of the big men, with both teams stacked up front with 6-10, 6-11 and 7-foot trees. I can’t recall such a Finals matchup of big men since 1986, when the Celtics' Hall of Fame frontcourt troika matched up with 7-foot Hakeem Olajuwon and 7-4 Ralph Sampson.
This looks like a good matchup for the Lakers. With Cleveland getting knocked off, LA now gets home court advantage, a huge advantage it didn’t have a year ago. The great Boston defense and physical play smacked them around in six games, coming from 24-points down to win Game 4 and winning by 39 in Game 6. The Lakers were embarrassed and have incentive (and experience) on their side.
Orlando's strength is up front with Dwight Howard, 6-10 Rashard Lewis and even 6-10 Hedo Turkoglu, who can shoot from long range or drive down low. They have used that big advantage all thru the playoffs. But that won’t be an edge now, as the Lakers are the only team bigger up front, with a pair of 7-footers (Gasol, Bynum) plus 6-10 Lamar Odom.
Then there is some guy named Kobe Bryant in the backcourt who Orlando will have to contend with. The Magic backcourt isn’t really as good as you might think after watching them rain threes on Boston and Cleveland. In five of seven games the banged-up Celtics held Orlando to 95 points or less, something the Cavs couldn’t do. And Orlando had no answer for LeBron, who averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.2 assists in the series. You may think the game plan was to let LeBron strut his stuff and worry about the other guys, which is partially true, but it’s also true that Orlando has no backcourt defensive stopper. That will be a problem against the Lakers and Kobe. They also lost their All-Star guard in mid-season, Jameer Nelson, a terrific young talent. Nelson may be able to play this series, but will be very limited, perhaps just 15 minutes per game.
The Magic swept the season series with LA. Orlando had a 106-103 victory over the Lakers December 20th in Orlando. They shot 48.6% and held LA to 41% shooting, though the rebounding battle was even. Bynum had three points and five fouls in only 12 minutes. Bryant missed a three at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime, but made 14 of 31 shots, and all 11 of his free throws for 41 points.
Stan Van Gundy joked afterward, "I don't think anybody is coming to me for a gig about defending Kobe. We better keep winning games, so I can stay employed." The Magic made 12 of 33 threes. LA is a great free throw shooting team and hit 24-of-25 in that game, while Orlando missed 15 freebies (24-of-39, 61%). Poor free throw shooting should hurt them at some point in this series, both straight up and against the number.
They met again, January 16, in LA and Orlando won, 109-103. LA shot 39%, the Magic 44%. Orlando won with a big fourth quarter and a whopping 54-40 edge in rebounds. Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds. By the way, the leading scorer in BOTH those games for the Magic was Jameer Nelson (28 and 27). Orlando missed 11 free throws in that rematch (67%).
Do not read too much into the regular season meetings. LA was playing the second of a back to back in the first meeting, and its 3rd game in four nights in the rematch. One final thought: Who do you think Shaq is rooting for? He couldn’t stand coach Jeff Van Gundy when they were in Miami, and he couldn’t stand Kobe in LA. I suspect the Magic.
Re: NBA Finals Preview and Pick
NBA Finals Preview: Lakers vs Magic
By: Tony Corleone
On Thursday night all eyes will be glued to the t.v. as the first game of the 2009 NBA Playoffs will be played between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic. This series should prove to be entertaining and exciting to watch as both teams are very good and each has all star talent. During the regular season, the Magic managed to go 2-0 against the Lakers, defeating them 106-103 in Orlando on Dec. 20th and 109-103 in Los Angeles on Jan. 16th. This would usually mean a lot, but there are several reasons why it does not. Firstly, Jameer Nelson was the leading scorer for the Magic in both of those games, with a combined 55 total points. Good shooting guards have managed to beat up on the Lakers throughout the season. Nelson will not be recovered to play and even if he is, Jameer has not played a game since February and will not be very effective. The Magic also rely heavily on the 3 point shot. Orlando averaged an amazing 38% from beyond the arc during the regular season and will need to shoot well from there if they want to win the series. The Lakers seemed two sided in this years playoffs. They have shown that they can dominate teams at times but still have collapses during games where they let huge leads slip away. They will need both Odem and Bynum to keep Howard away from the rim, or at least foul him an make him earn his points from the free throw line where he has struggled. One thing is for sure, the Lakers have the best player on the planet on there side, Kobe Bryant. He is averaging 26.8 points per game, 4.9 assists per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. I think that this will be a long series that goes to 7 games but the Lakers will prevail.