LA should have edge on Orlando

The Lakers have to close down the Magic and the extra home game should make difference for Kobe Bryant and his teammates in the NBA finals.

The Magic's Dwight Howard will guard Pau Gasol, right, closely potentially leaving the way clear for Kobe Bryant, left.
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The NBA finals begins tonight with the Orlando Magic taking on Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in a best-of-seven series. The Magic won both regular season meetings. Jameer Nelson, now on the injured list, scored 55 points in the two Magic victories. He exposed the Lakers big weakness - they are unable to stop speedy guards. In the Western conference semi-final, the Lakers were pushed to the deciding seventh game because the Houston Rockets guard Aaron Brooks could beat Derek Fisher off the dribble and then get to the rim. Unfortunately for the Magic, Nelson is still out after shoulder surgery.

Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses. The Lakers are prone to prolonged shooting slumps. Kobe Bryant is not a great three-point threat, and the rest of the team is streaky. Sacha Vujacic has moments, as does Fisher, and most recently Trevor Ariza. That being said, if the Lakers start missing outside shots, there is a reasonable chance the team loses. Ariza has been particularly effective shooting threes throughout the play-offs and he is due to start missing if past experience is anything to go on.

On the other side, the Magic have shot the lights out during the play-offs. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis have had a field day, shooting over opponents at will. But the Lakers have great perimeter defenders in Bryant, Lamar Odom and Ariza so the Magic's hot shooting should cool off considerably. Dwight Howard got the better of the Cleveland Cavaliers' post players, but it will not be so easy against the giant Andrew Bynum and the skilled Pau Gasol. Howard will still rack up rebounds and points, but he will not command constant double teams as he did against Cleveland.

The Lakers run what is called the triple post or triangle offence. In essence, the post player receives the ball and then the other players play off him in a triangle formation. Gasol, Bryant and Odom are particularly effective in the post, shooting or passing as their teammates cut through the key area. Gasol is a perfect player for this system. Howard will no doubt guard Gasol closely, but in doing so will be drawn away from protecting the basket leaving Lakers such as Bryant clear paths to the basket.

By taking the play right to whomever Howard is guarding, the Lakers will contain his ability to act as the last line of defence. In the Cleveland series, the Magic's perimeter defenders such as Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus could defend LeBron James closely in the knowledge that if the Cavs player managed to get by them, Howard would be waiting with outstretched arms to block shots. If the triangle offence is executed correctly, Howard should be left twisting in the wind trying to guard his man and whoever is breaking towards the basket.

And if Howard tries to help his teammates on defence, the Lakers' post players are more than capable of hitting the open shots. The Magic will have to collapse their defence into the key, making it difficult for the Lakers to play off the post player. Consequently, the Lakers will have to make outside shots. While he's no Larry Bird from beyond the three point line, Bryant is one of the league's best mid-range shooters.

All year the Lakers battled the Cavaliers for the league's best record and the finals are where these regular season victories count the most. With home court advantage, the Lakers should be able to win the series in seven games even if the Magic play to the best of their abilities. With the fans right on the court, winning away is tough in the NBA. Even the referees get spooked by the crowd's intensity and consistently make calls favouring the home team. The Lakers will get the calls in Los Angeles and the Magic will get the calls in Orlando.

There are four games in Los Angeles and three games in Orlando. It's pretty simple. The Magic have finally met their match. Expect the Lakers to win, however many games it takes.