Orlando Magic face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a rematch today of last season's NBA Finals.
Brian Schmitz asks some questions before the Orlando Magic face off against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Amway Arena for the first time since Game 5 of the 2009 NBA Finals.
The questions that they must answer — not just today, but if they meet the Lakers again — are largely the same:
Can they handle the length of big men Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom? Is Brandon Bass an X-factor?
Will [Jameer] Nelson return to bedeviling L.A.? He was a Lakers-killer in last season's 2-0 sweep, but a non-factor in a Finals comeback and ordinary in L.A. this season.
Can [Vince] Carter show L.A. some of the Vintage Vince we've seen this month?
The Los Angeles Lakers, who will face the Orlando Magic on Sunday in Orlando, look to avoid their first three-game losing streak since Jan. 2008
Josh Robbins writes that Kobe Bryant and his teammates are frustrated about a two-game losing streak, which speaks to the expectations surrounding the Lakers to repeat as champions.
After a defeat Thursday in Miami and another Friday in Charlotte, the defending world champions will enter this afternoon's game against the Orlando Magic hoping to prevent their first three-game losing streak since Jan. 2008.
Bryant spoke up during the Lakers' practice Saturday at Rollins College. He wouldn't tell reporters what his message was — "It's to my teammates," he said — but ostensibly he wants to see more determination, especially on defense.
More after the jump.
Los Angeles Lakers now have plenty to prove
Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson have a chance to play a big role for the Magic.
One guy you don't want to give easy opportunities to is the Magic's 6-foot-11, 265-pound center, Dwight Howard. The Lakers held him in check for the most part during the Finals, but Howard had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the two teams' first meeting of the season back on Jan. 18, which L.A. won 98-92. Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson was limited by a shoulder injury last year during the championship round, but with him healthy and Howard as omnipresent as ever, the screen-roll game becomes a concern in Sunday's game yet again.
Lakers talk over their issues
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains why Los Angeles has been struggling lately.
Specifically, the Lakers are experiencing issues with their pick-and-roll defense.
The Lakers' ballhandling guards have been getting beaten off the dribble. Andrew Bynum is inconsistent; sometimes he seems motivated and jumps out on opposing teams' point guards and sometimes he doesn't, getting stuck in a dangerous gray area. Bryant's on-ball defense has been passable, but he's been poor off the ball, the primary example being Quentin Richardson's 25-point outburst Thursday in Miami.
1. Sunday Breakdown: Lakers Vs. Magic
John Carroll of Scouts Inc. previews today's game.
One of the biggest changes on the Magic roster is Vince Carter. Hedo Turkoglu, whom the Magic lost this offseason, was much more of a pick-and-roll player who loved to have the ball in his hands. Carter is a pure scorer who can break his man down one-on-one off isolations and post-ups. Although Carter's numbers are improving as the playoffs near, his season field goal percentage (41.5) is just shy of his career low. But the truth for the Magic is that they may only be able to go as far in the playoffs as Carter takes them. He needs to score, get to the rim, get to the free-throw line, and be extremely aggressive for them to be a success.
Lakers are making less of more
Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times asserts that the Lakers are doing less with more this season, which isn't good in his eyes considering the amount of talent on the roster.
Lakers find the road to a repeat isn't easy
Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times writes that Los Angeles will be ready for Orlando.
Kobe Bryant delivers stern message to Los Angeles Lakers teammates
Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles talks about the Lakers' player-only meeting.
Orlando Magic expect playoff-like atmosphere in Sunday’s game against Los Angeles Lakers
Tania Ganguli dishes on Brandon Bass' desire to win a championship, if only to silence fellow Louisiana State alum Glen Davis, who won a title two years ago with the Boston Celtics.
Is Jerry West Overrated as a GM?
M. Haubs of The Painted Area wonders whether or not former Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West was overrated as a general manager. What does this have to do with the Orlando Magic? Haubs pieces together the enormous gamble West took when he tried to sign then-free agent Shaquille O'Neal in 1996.
Steve Springer did an outstanding job piecing together the Laker moves of the pivotal "Summer of '96" for the L.A. Times back in 2001. Here’s an excerpt:I know this article is slightly irrelevant to the game but I had to post it here as an exception since Orlando and Los Angeles share some history together, both on and off the court.
Drafted by Orlando in 1992, he was a free agent at the end of the 1995-96 season. It was assumed O'Neal, involved in the music and movie business, and so enraptured with L.A. that he kept a car here permanently, would be interested in the Lakers.
But to this day, his agent, Leonard Armato, insists the Magic was O'Neal's first choice. "Shaq wanted to stay in Orlando," he says, "and we were going to do whatever possible to ensure he stayed there." [...]
"The [Orlando] media became so critical of the possible contract," Armato says. "The Orlando fans began to question whether Shaq was worth the amount of money needed to sign him. It was one thing after another. Shaq was disappointed. After that, we felt it was worth looking around. We felt, from a business standpoint, it made sense to examine the alternatives.