Scout's Take: Finals breakdown (cont.)
Trevor Ariza, Lakers. He's a key role player: If he can keep Turkoglu from having exceptional games, it's going to be very difficult for Orlando to win. Ariza has been a great find, a perfect example of a very good athlete who has some basketball skills and stays within those skills so he doesn't become a liability. He defends and runs the floor well, and in their offense he's good at cutting in space and also hitting the timely three. He's a big upgrade over last year, when they were starting Vladimir Radmanovic at small forward.
Derek Fisher, Lakers. Is he going to give the Lakers the advantage at the point? I think he can because of his experience. He's not as good as he was, and at times he looks tired after the long season. That being said, this is the Finals, and his minutes have been cut back quite a bit, so I can imagine him coming back around to be a positive factor. Obviously, the big thing for him is hitting open threes, because if the Magic start playing off him and he doesn't punish them, that makes everything more difficult for the Lakers.
Courtney Lee, Magic. An excellent find as a rookie, he's willing to accept his role. A quiet leader and absolutely a competitor, he has all of those things you love. He takes pride in his defense, and at the same time, he's not a liability at the other end, so it's not like you're playing four-on-five when he's out there. Everything changes for him in this series because he has to guard Kobe. But no one on that team is going to be charged with trying to guard Kobe one-on-one. There's going to be a lot of help.
Rafer Alston, Magic. I just don't trust him with the ball. Some days he's great and cagey, but as a coach trying to guess what you're going to get with him each night -- that's a tough thing to say about your point guard. He would be one of my biggest questions about Orlando, and the series might swing based on what he does. Having Turkoglu out there with him takes pressure off Alston to make plays, but he still has to make threes or, at least, score consistently, because the Lakers are going to leave him open and he has to punish them for it.
Lakers. Lamar Odom is a key guy. If he becomes dominant and consistent, then the Lakers will be very tough to beat. He can do so many different things, but he's also an example of what's wrong with the Lakers. As good and experienced as they are, they still have some question marks, and he's one of them. If Odom continues to be up and down, that will obviously help Orlando. I can remember him in AAU, and though he was a terrific player, even then I felt like he really didn't understand how good he was or how dominant he could be. ... Sasha Vujacic has not been making shots consistently, but making up for that has been Shannon Brown. He was a throw-in in that midseason trade for Adam Morrison, but the guy can really score, and he has the guts to take big shots. They can't afford to double off him, which is a big advantage to the Lakers bringing him off the bench. Defensively, he can shut down J.J. Redick, and at times, he could help take care of Alston. ... Jordan Farmar has been inconsistent this year, but I actually like him more than I did a year ago. I think he's realizing his role as the point guard and not taking as many of the wild shots that hurt the team. ... Luke Walton? He doesn't hurt you, but I don't know that he does a lot to help you, either.
Magic. The thing that surprised me about Mickael Pietrus was how well he was defending at times against LeBron. Pietrus was taking some pride in that, which was something I hadn't seen from him before. He had been known as a good scorer but a selfish scorer, a guy who took a lot of bad shots and didn't give the ball up when he should. But he has also had times in his career where he has been very effective as well, and he's a great athlete, ... Anthony Johnson is a good guy to have, a reliable older guy backing up the point for the few minutes they'll play him. ... For three or four minutes at a time, Marcin Gortat is good to have on the floor because he can create havoc as a center in short stretches with his physical play, and he can even finish a little bit. But if he's on the floor for six-minutes straight, it's time to get him out of there because now he's starting to hurt you. That's why if Howard gets in foul trouble, and you're going to have to rely on Gortat, you're going to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen.
Stan Van Gundy is a hell of a coach, and he's an emotional coach, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's not like he has an agenda with certain players -- he's just out there coaching his brains out. He gets so caught up in the game and so emotional that if he says the wrong thing and reacts the wrong way toward his own players, that wouldn't surprise me. He wears it on his sleeve, and that could embarrass someone and it could be an issue. His emotion could be good or it could be bad.
Phil Jackson is on the other end of the spectrum. He isn't going to embarrass his players in that sense; he's going to tend to be more calm than anything. His enormous experience in these situations is going to be an advantage for the Lakers.
What to Watch For
There's no one on Orlando who can guard Kobe one-on-one. They're going to have load to the ball, which means that Fisher and Ariza are going to have to hit the open three. When Gasol's man comes off him to help defend Kobe's drives, Gasol has to go to the boards and get some put-backs.
When Gasol is being played straight up, one-on-one, Lewis will have problems matching up with him away from the basket.
I'm going to be interested to see who is commanding the double team, primarily in the post. What is going to be Jackson's approach defensively to dealing with Howard? Is he going to play him straight up and try to get away with it?
In the Denver series, I was really impressed with Jackson defensively and the way his defense loaded to the ball and took away the penetrations of Carmelo Anthony. It was really a zone defense they were playing, and they were playing big when Denver was going small. Even in those situations, Jackson was able to keep Bynum and Gasol on the floor together by playing a lot of zone on the weak side. I think they're going to be able to do the same things in this series because that kind of defense will work when Orlando tries to drive or penetrate inside and kick it out to the shooters. Basically, Orlando is going to try to go with four perimeter players around Howard in the middle, and because of their experiences against Denver and the way Denver plays, the Lakers will be well prepared for it.
Another question is whether Orlando can take the scheme they used against LeBron -- letting him score and shutting down his teammates -- and simply apply the same thing against Kobe. And the answer to that is no. The Lakers have too many legitimate role players around Kobe. When the lights turned bright, the Cavaliers showed that their guys were lacking, but the Lakers have more scoring, and so the Magic will have to make more defensive adjustments to account for them.
The key element in the series is which team can stay home the most on defense and avoid having to double.
Another important aspect is going to be whether Orlando can shoot well from the three-point line. This series could be closer than people think because of Orlando's shooters. If they're hitting their threes, it could become a great series. But if they aren't ...
While Orlando got here by winning close games in the final minute, I think Kobe is going to have the last word in those situations. If it's a close game, I like the Lakers, because that's when Kobe is the best.
Lakers in six.
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