The “experts” all say that Dwight Howard will be the key to this series. Well, I don’t think so. This series will be decided not inside the paint, but outside the arc.
Howard will get his points, regardless. That will not shape the series. What will, will be the Lakers’ perimeter defense, defending the real strength of the Magic offense – their three-point shooting.
Orlando shot more threes per game than any other NBA team except NY, and tied with the Knicks for the most made, during the regular season, and they have continued their dependence on three-pointers through the playoffs. Interestingly enough, while the Lakers were the third best defense against the three during the regular season, the second best was Orlando, with Cleveland first. During the playoffs, however, the Lakers have been just ahead of Orlando in three-point defense, and second to Detroit, while Cleveland fell to 12th – a major reason for their losing to Orlando.
Key matchups to watch will be Tevor Ariza on Hedo Turkoglu, and whomever the Lakers put on Mickael Pietrus. Most likely Kobe will draw that assignment, but I have a feeling Ariza will end up there, with Lamar Odom switching to Turkoglu, so long as Gasol and especially Bynum do reasonably well on Howard.
Ariza has a lot to prove to his old team, and his old coach, Stan Van Gundy, whose parting words on Ariza, when the Magic traded him to the Lakers for two journeymen who are both long gone from Orlando, were “I think it was a good move for us.”
The possibility now that Jameer Nelson may be healthy enough to see action is an interesting new element to factor in. If he is healthy, he adds a new dimension to the Magic back court. If he is not healthy, and as rusty as Andrew Bynum was after his three month absence, after a five-minute emotional high, he will be a liability.
Another interesting fact is that in a changing league that traditionally depended on the NCAA “farm system”, seven of the ten starters did not attend college.