This is the first article of a two part series; the NEXT article will be titled “Why Phil Jackson may win his 10th championship this year.”
Until recently, Orlando’s basketball resume read like this (in no particular order):
o Fired former Coach of the Year Doc Rivers, then watched Doc win an NBA Championship 4 years later as coach of the Boston Celtics
o Burned through 6 coaches in the last 5 years, including the hiring of Brian Hill who the Magic had fired once before
o Watched their 1992-1993 Rookie of the Year, Shaquille O’Neal walk away from Orlando, getting no players in return, then watched Shaq win 4 NBA championships (3 with the Lakers, their Finals opponent, and 1 with the OTHER Florida basketball team)
o Gave up Ben Wallace in 2000, then watched him go on to win an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons…
o … and watched Ben Wallace go on to win 4 Defensive Player of the Year awards
o Further assisted the Pistons by trading for Darko Milicic
o Squandered 9 years of lottery picks, including drafting Johnny Taylor instead of Tony Parker. Haven’t heard of Johnny Taylor? He was traded 4 times in his 3 year career, averaged 1 point per game, and “earned” $3,111,280 for it.
o Actually traded FOR Steve Francis
o Gave up Trevor Ariza to the Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans, neither of which still play for the Magic
Forget all that though, this year’s Orlando Magic are one IMPRESSIVE team. They …
o Eliminated the Defending Champion Boston Celtics, and last season’s Finals MVP Paul Pierce, from the playoffs,
o Eliminated the team with the best regular season record from the playoffs: the Cleveland Cavaliers,
o Frustrated media darling and reigning MVP LeBron James into tarnishing his pristine image by storming off the court without proffering the post game niceties required of players with class as found in the unwritten rules of the sportsmanship code of conduct.
And if that isn’t enough to impress the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps they ought to pay attention to a quick history lesson.
Ever since the Dallas Mavericks made history in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs when they became the only first seed to lose a 7 game series to an eighth seed, Golden State Warriors, I have been more careful about watching regular season results for how teams might match up in the playoffs.
o In the 2008 NBA Finals, pundits picked the Lakers, even though they were 0 of 2 against the Celtics in the regular season.
o This season, Cleveland was blown out TWICE by the Orlando Magic, and barely won the third game.
o Likewise, the Blazers lost 2 out of 3 games to the Rockets in the regular season, and it would have been 3 losses were it not for a heroic, last-second shot by Brandon Roy.
o And Denver lost 3 of 4 regular season games to the Lakers.
Contrary to those who claim that the regular season doesn’t matter when it comes to the playoffs, everything should be carefully looked at and at least considered, including the Magic’s 2 victories in 2 meetings with the Lakers.
The Lakers only had 17 losses all season: 5 to teams that didn’t even make the playoffs, and 2 to the Orlando Magic.
— Opposites Attract —
And now these rags to riches Magic are going to the NBA Finals for the second time in their franchise history to face the Los Angeles Lakers, returning to the NBA Finals for a league leading 30th time.
The contrast couldn’t be more stark.
— Coaches —
The Lakers are led by 9 time NBA Championship Coach Phil Jackson. Nicknamed the “Zen Master,” Phil is infamous for not calling timeouts when things are going wrong and letting his team work it out on its own, and has been accused of being too laid back.
On the other hand, the Magic is led by Stan Van Gundy, dubbed the “Master of Panic” by Shaquille O’Neal. Stan has been known to be so shrill that his players tune him out for their own sanity’s sake.
— Centers —
It’s Patrick Ewing‘s pupil verses Kareem‘s pupil. On the surface, it appears that the Lakers and Magic centers have a lot in common.
Dwight Howard went from high school to the NBA in 2004. Andrew Bynum went from high school to the NBA in 2005. But other than a tendency to get into foul trouble, that is about where the similarities between these two players ends.
Throughout playoffs people have been making excuses to justify Andrew Bynum‘s inadequate play. Yes, Bynum is young, has little playoff experience, is coming of an injury, etc. … but the same could be said of Dwight Howard, but instead of making excuses, Howard makes goals.
At the beginning of this season, Dwight Howard publicly stated that he is going to try to earn the Defensive Player of the Year award, and he did it. Imagine how different a player and a person Andrew Bynum would be if he set goals for himself that required extraordinary effort like that.
Instead, Andrew Bynum has a questionable work ethic, is typically the last person back on defense and was caught on camera carrying playboy bunnies on his shoulders when he is supposed to be rehabbing his knee.
By contrast, Dwight Howard is constantly being caught on camera giving credit to God for the success we all see Howard work extremely hard to earn, night in and night out.
Dwight Howard’s lack of calls by NBA refs has been a topic of discussion this last week. Bynum’s pouting about calls every time he makes a mistake has been a topic of discussion as well.
If inspirational movies such as Hoosiers, Rudy, and Forever Strong are right, and character and hard work are key contributors to winning, then at the center position, the Lakers are in real trouble.
Pau Gasol, of course, will be the main compensation for the Lakers at the center position, but Josh Powell may see an increased role from the bench as well, particularly if he’ll use his strength to keep Dwight Howard off the boards.
— Set up a Perimeter —
In addition to Howard on the inside, the Magic have a splendid collection of shooters on the perimeter. There is NO WAY Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher and company are going to out-shoot those guys, which means the Lakers’ perimeter players are going to really have to play defense all series long… which is bad news for the Lakers.
Additionally, Fisher, Vujacic, Farmar and Shannon Brown are a little on the small side to bother 6′ 10″ Rashard Lewis and 6′ 10″ Hedo Turkoglu shooting on the perimeter, and 6′ 7″ Trevor Ariza can’t cover them all. And for all his brilliance, Kobe Bryant has an unfortunate knack for fouling 3 point shooters.
The size and contributions of Lamar Odom and Luke Walton will probably become quite important to the Lakers in neutralizing the tall, sharp shooting Magic perimeter threat.
— Master and Commander —
Ultimately, the Orlando Magic is a team that has been designed to test the Lakers at their two greatest weaknesses: rebounding and defense. As each game progresses, watch those two areas specifically.
If the Lakers can focus for 48 minutes on these two hustle areas, Phil Jackson will have his 10th championship ring. If the Lakers play the way they often have these playoffs, the Zen Master will be vanquished by the Master of Panic.