|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|January 16th, 2009|
|Sun Sports HD / ESPN|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Derek Fisher|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Kobe Bryant|
|Hedo Turkoglu||SF||Vladimir Radmanovic|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Pau Gasol|
|Dwight Howard||C||Andrew Bynum|
|December 20th: Magic 106, Lakers 103|
Orlando Magic basketball is quickly becoming must-see TV, and tonight's matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers will only strengthen that reputation. The game features two of the top four teams in the NBA as well as the reigning Players of the Week for their respective conferences: Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant and Orlando's Dwight Howard. We should expect a close contest with a furious finish, no?
Don't buy into the hype machine that says the Lakers are a poor defensive team. They yield 99.2 points per game, 16th in the league, but that's just a function of their fast pace. The Lakers are actually one of the league's elite defensive teams, yielding 104.6 points per 100 possessions. They're no slouches on the other end of the floor either, scoring a league-best 113.6 points per 100 possessions. The Magic will indeed have their hands full tonight against a tough opponent.
Fortunately for the Magic, one of the Lakers' rare weaknesses plays to their strengths. The Lakers are 13th in effective field goal percentage defense, while the Magic--as has been well documented recently--are one of the best shooting teams in the league. It should be bombs-away from the outside for the Magic tonight, but they'll also be able to feed Howard on the inside against the foul-prone Andrew Bynum (13 fouls in 3 starts against Howard) and the overmatched Pau Gasol.
For more on the Lakers, I chatted with LABallTalk. Read our q-and-a after the jump.
UPDATE: here are a few links to tide you over until tipoff:
NBA.com shows that tonight's officials are Tom Washington, Marc Davis, and Phil Robinson. I checked NBAStuffer.com's referee stats page, just for the heck of it, and I was astonished to see that the home team wins 74.1% of its games when Robinson officiates. Even worse: that's only the seventh-highest percentage in the league.
My suspicions were confirmed after the reporter next to me asked another Magic related question. "Would you be intimated by the [Magic] if you saw them again in the Finals?" he asked.
"Me, intimidated?" Kobe asked quizzically as a smile began to appear on his face.
"Nah, man," he continued, "Unless it's a bee I'm not intimidated by anything."
The excellent Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold has posted its game preview. Author Kwame A. thinks the key to a Lakers win is to push Dwight Howard off the block and not to double-team him. That's a sound strategy, but I'm not sure any of the Lakers' defenders have what it takes to bump Dwight out of his comfort zone. They might be content with letting Dwight get his 30+ and just stay at home on the Magic's shooters.
The Lakers' official website reports that Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic are "probable" tonight. That's bad news. No, neither player was particularly effective against the Magic last month, but the Lakers are clearly better off when they have rotation guys back. And maybe Vujacic will actually make a shot tonight.
The combination of a Magic win and a Cleveland Cavaliers loss would give the Magic the league's best record. Unfortunately, the Cavs are blitzing the New Orleans Hornets right now, up by 19 a little over halfway through the third period. Barring a huge comeback by the Hornets, Cleveland will improve to 20-0 at home and stay ahead of the Magic, even if Orlando wins tonight.
Third Quarter Collapse: When these teams met in Orlando earlier this season, the Magic came from behind and won. What adjustments to the Lakers need to make in order to even the score tonight?
LABallTalk: This is going to be an extremely tough game for the Lakers as their perimeter defenders Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, and Sasha Vujacic are unavailable. The Magic are all about the inside out game with Howard dominating the paint and all the shooters being ready to launch up the three from the perimeter. The Lakers have struggled in general with teams that live by the jump shot. The Lakeshow has a lot of size and therefore it's tought for them to play defense outside of the painted area, but they sure as hell try.
I think one of the biggest adjustments the Lakers will make is with Kobe dictating more of the game. He has really changed his approach on the court recently, evidenced by all the assists he's been racking up! Bynum has been playing a lot better recently and if he runs up and down the court, perhaps he can somehow manage to get Dwight a bit more tired than usual (if that's possible). The key for the Lakers will really just be to focus, play half court offense, and defend as best they can. You know, the same basic strategy as every team follows.
Third Quarter Collapse: Former Magic forward Trevor Ariza has emerged as one of the Lakers' most important players, averaging 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. One sports blogger wrote earlier this week that Ariza could become the Scottie Pippen to Kobe Bryant's Michael Jordan. Do you agree with that assessment? And do the Lakers have the resources to re-sign Ariza when he hits free agency this summer?
LABallTalk: The Lakers absolute priority this offseason is to sign Trevor Ariza. There is no way that they would let him walk. Ariza has really developed his game beyond anyone's expectations. I feel like working out with Kobe on a daily basis has really helped Trevor because the slashing to the basket, creating opportunities and just the intensity is so simlar between the two players. Kobe acts as a great mentor for Ariza. Phil Jackson also has a lot of faith in Ariza which always helps a player develop confidence in himself. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakers are forced to decide between signing Odom or Ariza this Summer and choose Ariza. Many have said that Bynum was the missing piece to last season's finals for the Lakers, whereas it's now obvious that Ariza would've made a bigger impact.
Third Quarter Collapse: Before Thursday's NBA action, the Lakers held a commanding 5.5 game lead over their next-closest challenger in the Western Conference standings, the San Antonio Spurs. Which Western teams, if any, stand the best chance of preventing the Lakers from repeating as Western Conference Champions?
LABallTalk: I think there are two teams that have a serious chance at competing with the Lakers. The New Orleans Hornets and the Phoenix Suns. The Hornets have a young creative point guard that can create offense at anytime. Tyson Chandler has become much better over the last few years and his connection with Paul has really become an issue for many teams. Also, David West has developed his game to a point where not many power forwards can keep up with him. He is very versatile and when his shot is on, boy is he dangerous. Pau Gasol sure can't handle him, that's obvious.
The Phoenix Suns are capable of challenging the Lakers as well not due to their offense, but because of their defense. Yes, I said Phoenix Suns and defense in the same sentence. The Lakers have had a match up advantage over their competition with Bynum and Gasol in the paint. Against Phoenix however, Shaq and Amare are capable of defending both guys without having any real issues. After trading Raja Bell away though, Kobe will have an easier time posting up against Jason Richardson. Overall though, I'd really have to assume that the Lakers, in the Western Conference, can for once have an easier time making it to the finals than the top three Eastern Conference teams.
Our thanks to LABallTalk for that take on the Lakers.
Set your DVR for 10:30 on ESPN, or Sun Sports if you prefer David Steele and Matt Guokas. Let's make it a season sweep of the Lakers. Go Magic.