More so than the regular season, the playoffs are all about match-ups and how you take advantage of those situations. The Orlando Magic have taken this idea to a whole new level and ridden it all the way to the NBA Finals.
As the Magic finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, it only seems natural to look at the Finals and the match-ups that will make or break a teams chance at winning a title.
Point Guard: Laker’s Derek Fischer Vs. Magic’s Rafer Alston
I will ignore the fact the Hedo Turkoglu handles the ball about 70% of the time, especially after opponents made baskets.
The winner of this match-up will be determined by who shots better and turns the ball over less.
Fischer is most effective as a spot-up shooter, but his shooting numbers late in the season and in the playoffs have been pretty poor. He has averaged 26.3 minutes a game has shot 12-for-51 from distance (23.5%) and 35-for-118 from the field for 35.6% for a total of 7.1 points a game.
Alston has been scoring more, 12.7 ppg in the playoffs, but is also more prone to turnovers, 1.78 a game. But his role is very similar to Fischer: “hit open shots”.
Alston is winning the ultimate PG stat assist per game: 4.4 to Fischer’s 2.4.
Advantage: Alston – In the playoffs, Fischer has scored in the double figures, five, in as many games as Alston has not. (Excluding game 5 of the Celtics series when he was suspend.)
Shooting Guard: Laker’s Kobe Bryant Vs. Magic’s Courtney Lee
Look for a continuation of a Lee – Mickael Pietrus combo, but Bryant still tops their scoring totals 26.8 to 19.2. Pietrus has taken on the Brice Bowen role for the Magic as the defensive specialist and guy in the corner hitting threes. Lee has a nice mid-range jumper and is more of a slasher then Pietrus. And Kobe is Kobe.
Both Lee (6’5″ and 200 lbs) and Pietrus (6’6″ and 215 lbs) physically match-up well with Bryant (6’6″ and 205), but you are talking about Kobe.
Advantage: Kobe – It’s Kobe.
Small Forward: Laker’s Trevor Arzia Vs. Hedo Turkoglu
Arzia is long enough and athletic enough to match-up and stay with Turkoglu. Turkoglu has issues with players that are quicker than he is, not bigger. But Ariza has size (6’8′) and speed to stay with Turkaglu from the perimeter to the post.
Turkoglu has been inconsistent with his shooting in the playoffs, but he always is willing and able in the clutch. His scoring is down to 15.2 ppg from 16.8, but his assists are slightly higher and in Orlando’s closet games, the Magic look to Turkaglu to make their offense go.
Arzia is definitely not the first, second, or third option on offense for the Laker’s, but he is averaging 11.4 ppg while shooting 50% from behind the arc.
Even though this match-up will be close, I think Turkoglu will find ways to get his numbers and be the go-to guy in the forth quarter.
Advantage: Turkoglu – To many ways to score.
Power Forward: Laker’s Pau Gaso and Lamar Odom Vs. Magic’s Rashard Lewis
Much like the shooting guard situation with the Magic, Lamar Odom very well could start at the four spot and then Gasol would move to the five spot.
Lewis is Orlando’s forgotten man, but the Magic would be forgotten without him. He has caught fire in the playoffs – 19.4 ppg, 40% shooting from deep and 44% total shooting) and has the best offensive low-post game on the team.
The issue with Lewis is that he is a match-up problem for 99% percent of the teams in the league, the Laker’s are in the 1% and Laker’s coach Phil Jackson has no problem flipping starting line-ups if he feels it betters his team, and while I am not convinced Gasol can or will guard Dwight Howard, he cannot guard Lewis. But Odom can.
Odom is Lewis, just a couple years older and not as consistent of a shooter. Odom does have a low post game that is hard to stop and he is a lefty, which is always tricky. Odom is a better rebounder than Lewis (9.5 rpg vs. Lewis’ 6.1 rpg) and Odom, when on and busting his butt, is the deference on this team.
This match-up comes down to Odom deciding how hard he wants to play. While Lewis has scored 14 or more points in every playoff game, Odom has only done it six times. But the Laker’s are 5-1 in those six games. So if Odom plays like this is his last chance at a title, the match-up goes to the Laker’s, but I am not sure he will.
Advantage: Odom – when he plays well, the Lakers win.
Center: Laker’s Pau Gasol Vs. Magic’s Dwight Howard
Can anyone say polar opposites? Gasol is finesse and Howard is strength. Gasol is crafty while Howard is a better athlete. Gasol can hit from 17 feet, Howard will hit you with an elbow – and then get suspended for it. Gasol is soft on defense, and Howard is the Defensive Player of the Year.
Howard average 5.33 fouls a game against the Cav’s (we’ll call that the LeBron Effect), and fouled out in half of the last six games. Howard will be able to keep his counterpart in check mostly by holding his ground, but he can get into foul trouble when flying to the rescue when helping on weak defense.
While Gasol is never considered the defensive power that Howard is, it is interesting that in the playoffs, Gasol is averaging 2 blocks a game and Howard 2.2, but Howard out-rebounds Gasol 15.4 to 11.3.
Gasol has been tougher in the Laker’s last two games, but he will get out worked and physically out matched against Howard.
Advantage: Magic – Gasol can’t stop Howard, but Gasol will be productive and make Howard guard him.
Both teams have a few players that come in to change the game. For Orlando it is Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, and Anthony Johnson with Pietrus as the only bench player contributing offensively and getting meaningful minutes (25.3 a game). The Magic have shorten their bench up in the playoffs unless their is foul trouble, then we may see Tony Battie.
Gortat has been a nice surprise and has stepped-up when Howard gets in foul trouble. In the game Howard was suspended, Gortait played 40 minutes, grabbed 15 boards and had 11 points. Jameer Nelson could be a nice spark – he has been a Laker killer this season – or he could also mess up the chemistry the team has found in the playoffs.
The Lakers are deeper than the Magic and typically run with Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmer and Sasha Vujacic. They also have Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga to bang with Howard and give up their twelve fouls.
Odom should start, so Bynum will come of the bench and add height, skill, and muscle and is the best match-up for the Lakers to play Howard straight up.
Brown has jumped over Farmer as the first guard off the bench and provides a spark of the bench. Brown is a much better than he was in college, but still has the hops to throw it down. He is also shooting 44% from the floor and 48% from behind the arc.
Jackson has always relied on his bench, we saw it with in Chicago and he continues to rely on them in crucial moments in the game.
Advantage: Laker’s – too much talent.
Coaching – Laker’s Phil Jackson Vs. Magic’s Stan Van Gundy
Not sure how you can argue against Jackson, so I will not – there is not much argument. Van Gundy is underrated, but not that underrated. Jackson has nine rings.
Advantage: Laker’s – he needs one more ring to cover all his fingers.
Grand Total: - Laker’s – 4 and Magic – 3
This series will be a battle, and it always comes down to match-ups. The game changing match-up is Odom Vs. Lewis. Both are going to be tough guards for the other, but Odom has been the unreliable.
The Laker’s should win, but the Magic have been proving all the critics wrong. So I am picking the Magic in six games.