The NBA finals: A vote for tenacity, a vote for the Magic

There’s a reason Orlando is in the NBA finals and Cleveland is not. Each team has a superstar of the first rank, but the main Magic man is a center.

The Cavaliers built around LeBron James by deploying shooters on the perimeter. (Even Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the titular center, shoots mostly jump shots.) As long as LeBron was driving and the shooters were hitting, it worked gloriously. But when the Magic made it tougher on LeBron and those shooters started missing, the team that won 66 games was laid bare.

Cleveland didn’t have a guy it could feed in the low post and say, “Make a basket.” Because Orlando’s best player is a true center, it always has that option. And by stationing knockdown shooters at every other position, the Magic mixed the ideal blend.

An opponent must always double-team Dwight Howard, but the Magic didn’t need to double-team Ilgauskas or Anderson Varejao, who’s a garbage collector, or Ben Wallace, who only defends. Orlando could shade its defense toward LeBron without fear of being punished underneath. You mightn’t have thought the Magic was the better side entering the series, but after Game 2 the Cavs had been reduced to relying on miracles.

The NBA finals begin Thursday night, and again Orlando is the underdog. The Lakers are more gifted than any other team and better balanced than Cleveland, but L.A. lacks a commodity the Magic has in bulk – ferocity.

The 2009 NBA champion will be:

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The Magic played the heck out of the NBA elite all season. Orlando was 2-0 against the Lakers, 2-0 against San Antonio, 1-1 against Denver, 2-2 against Boston, 2-1 against Cleveland, 3-1 against the Hawks. And the Magic did this despite losing Jameer Nelson, the starting point guard, to injury Feb. 2. How? By being tough.

L.A. is the team of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. The Magic is based in central Florida and consists of resilient guys who’ve been around. The pro career of Rashard Lewis began with him sitting alone and forsaken in the green room at the 1998 draft. Hedo Turkoglu was born in Istanbul and is on his third NBA club. Rafer Alston, imported when Nelson was lost, made his reputation on the playgrounds of Queens and has worked for five NBA teams in 10 seasons.

There’s no prettier sight in sports than the Lakers when they’re clicking, but the Magic won’t let them. If we’ve learned anything from these playoffs, it’s that L.A. can be pushed. It needed seven games to dispose of the Yao-less Houston Rockets, and only in Game 5 against Denver did the Lakers push back.

The Magic pushes as a matter of course. Indeed, when the Hawks won the season opener in Orlando, coach Stan Van Gundy lit into his guys. “[The Hawks] played way too hard for us,” he said, and over the next seven months no team has played harder than SVG’s club. Heck, Orlando was so rattled by LeBron’s colossal Game 2 shot that it won three of the next four.

And it’s not as if the Magic is all effort and no skill. Those shooters can really shoot, and the Southwest Atlanta Christian alum has become the best big man in the world. There’s even a chance Nelson will play in the finals, but Orlando can win without him. Magic in six.

39 comments Add your comment

Ernest

June 3rd, 2009
1:44 pm

Mark, you have really become a ‘Blog Meister’ recently :) . Thanks for providing these forums.

I also believe the Magic will cause matchup problems for the Lakers. It will be a good series and I believe the Magic can win in 6.

Reid Adair

June 3rd, 2009
1:56 pm

I agree with you 100 percent on this one, Mark. After seeing how the Magic have progressed through the playoffs and the Lakers’ inconsistency, I think the Magic will win the championship.

Mac

June 3rd, 2009
2:00 pm

Some bloggers post a lot and it’s garbage. All of yours are like well-researched and sharply written Bradley columns. Congrats to you and your team of writers and researchers. Folks like me and ol’ Ernie up there have noticed and appreciate it.

That said, back on topic, I want the Magic to win for two reasons: First, I like Dwight Howard; Second, I don’t like Jellybean’s son.

bali

June 3rd, 2009
2:14 pm

do they pay you by the word or what. Another good article …… keep it going but dont burn out..

Mark Bradley

June 3rd, 2009
2:19 pm

Aw, shucks, folks … I’m gettin’ embarrassed here. But thanks.

About this getting paid thing: You mean I’m supposed to get paid for this?

All I'm Saying Is...

June 3rd, 2009
2:35 pm

Bradley, we all know that you didn’t pick Orlando at any other point in the pre-season, halfway point, or start of the playoffs but, please, go ahead and jump on the Magic bandwagon now.

This time will be different for the Magic as they
(a) Finally go up against a team with a sizable front line—Gasol, Bynum, and Odom (who I would not hesitate to start and have guard Lewis although I love Ariza) instead of the banged up Celtics (who they should have beaten in five games) and no-defense playing Cavs (who the Magic should have beat in four or five games) and
(b) Face Kobe who has a huge ego, something he has to prove and the will and determination (and supporting cast) to do it this year.

Ariza and Bynum will make the difference in the Lakers circa 2009 vs Lakers 2008 and as a result the Lakers will beat the Magic in six.

(Note: anytime Bradley jumps on a bandwagon, ring the bell and step off)

Mychelfromatl

June 3rd, 2009
2:41 pm

Mark, is the reason you’ve been blogging so much recently because you heard of an upcoming promotion at AJC?

Just kidding, great work lately kid!

Mychelfromatl

June 3rd, 2009
2:44 pm

O’ya Magics in 6. Lakers are still the same soft bunch from last year and not to mention the Magic swept the season series against them this year so why should we expect anything different to happen now?

Jay

June 3rd, 2009
3:05 pm

So, if you’re coaching the Lakers do you single-team and use up to 24 fouls (Bynum, Gasol, Mbenga and Powell) on Howard so you can stay with the shooters or do you double-team Howard and pick one shooter to leave open and dare him to beat you?

I’d choose the latter strategy because I believe in the old adage–live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot. With that said, the Magic could win in 5 and should win in 6 but if it goes 7 then all bets are off because anything’s possible.

ILL-logical

June 3rd, 2009
3:08 pm

But what about coaching? Who has the better, more experienced coach; should that not be factored in?

mitch

June 3rd, 2009
3:08 pm

As usual, I agree with you, Mr. MB, but this time with a slight difference. I think Orlando will win in 5 1/2 games because the Lakers will not answer the buzzer for the second half in game six due to a loss of the will to win. YP, Mitch

NoleRick

June 3rd, 2009
3:10 pm

Lets go D12 and the Magic!!
Mark, keep blogging, it gives me something to read while at work!!

Mychelfromatl

June 3rd, 2009
3:18 pm

O’ya and another thing.

For the Hawks this offseason,

1) Package your first round draft pick, Josh Childress, and Speedy Claxton in a trade to the Clippers for Chris Kaman.

2) Sign back Zaza, Flip, Marvin, and Bibby (Only if you can get him with a three year deal in the neighborhoood of $12-15).

3) If you can’t resign Bibby…go after Raymond Felton, Rafer Austin (I think this is his last year under contract, Ramon Sessions, or Jarrett Jack.

4) Sign Antonio McDyess or Chris Wilcox this summer.

5) Starting Five =

C) Kaman
F) Horford
F) Smith
SG) Johnson
PG) Bibby, Felton, Austin, Sessions, or Jack.

Bench =

M. Williams, Zaza, F. Murray, M. Evans, McDyess or Wilcox, AC Law.

O'brien

June 3rd, 2009
3:19 pm

Mark, who do the Hawks build around? We have nobody in the post to say “make a basket”, and Woody does not play inside out. He plays outside-outside. But that’s a different topic.

The Lakers have big front line too (Gasol, Bynum, Odom, DJ Mbenga), so I expect Dwight to go to the FT line a lot. He will need to make his FT’s like he did in the Cleveland series. And Kobe is the best closer in the league.

And I think Ariza and Odom are better defensively against Rashard and Turkoglu than who the Cavs had.

I am rooting for the Magic, but I think the Lakers win in 7

Orlando can't win

June 3rd, 2009
3:55 pm

Nice Braves site, lots of Minor League stuff-

http://minorsandmajors.com

Lakers Bandwagon Fan

June 3rd, 2009
4:24 pm

I’ve joined the purple and gold bandwagon. And I hope the Orlando Magic goes down in six.

I refuse to root for the Hawks’ division rivals. I don’t want them holding the SE Division title for the next few years.

I am hating on them cause they got the banner that I wanted the Hawks to get this past season and now have a shot at being the NBA Champs.

Yeah the Magic swept the Lakers with two wins in the regular season and that’s about how many they’ll probably win in the Finals, two games. The other four games will go to the Lakers. LAKERS IN SIX!

Besides Stan Van Gundy is no Phil Jackson, and Dwight Howard is no Kobe Bryant.

Lakers Bandwagon Fan

June 3rd, 2009
4:25 pm

vtye

June 3rd, 2009
4:26 pm

Jameer Nelson, Orlando point guard, had two fantastic games against the Lakers, but is out. Howard will be busy playing defense against the Laker ‘BIGS’ and trying to avoid PF calls. Looks like Kobe, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in 5 or 6 games!

calico

June 3rd, 2009
4:33 pm

Josh Smith i hope you are paying attention 2 your buddy Dwight Howard that is the level you need to take your game to so we (Hawks) can make some real noise in the NBA.

JASon

June 3rd, 2009
4:36 pm

Mark,
Don’t be surprised if Orlando gets in done in 4 or 5. This team is far superior to the Lakers.

Lakers Bandwagon Fan

June 3rd, 2009
4:40 pm

Anybody notice Dwight gets superstar calls too. But his heroics won’t save him this series. LAKERS IN SIX! GO LAKESHOW!

Chief Nock A Homa

June 3rd, 2009
4:45 pm

Mark,

Did you really just put the Hawks name in the equation of how the Magic fared against the NBA’s “elite”????

Th Atlanta Hawks???? NBA Elite team???

Wow…

Lakers Bandwagon Fan

June 3rd, 2009
4:46 pm

Nope, Cleveland made the Magic seem much better than they actually are. Phil Jackson will be getting his tenth championship ring in about six games. LAKERS IN SIX.

Mark Bradley

June 3rd, 2009
5:07 pm

Finished fourth in the East. Made the Eastern Conference semis. That’s semi-elite, I’d say.

But thanks for reading closely, Chief Nock.

JustaThought

June 3rd, 2009
5:39 pm

Drinking the DH kool-ade MB? Well be careful cause it might be poisoned this time around. Mister Howard better be getting his rest, cause he will surely need it. Lakers in 6.

JD Cowart

June 3rd, 2009
5:41 pm

Great blog Mark.

Every analyst continues to bring up the the strength and grit of the Magic as their primary characteristic…I feel like toughness is something that can be seen more evidently in the East than in the West…last years finals were proof.

It will be interesting to see the finesse of LA vs the power of ORL because you certainly are right,when the Lakers are clicking on all cylinders they are both tough to beat and amazing to watch.

blackprix

June 3rd, 2009
6:10 pm

The Magic dispersed the Cavs and it was not contest … Labron just made it look like it was.

This team has what it takes to dispose of the “I’m great, look at me Kobe’ and company!

I also believe Van Gundy will outcoach Jackson, just like Doc did last year.

J

June 3rd, 2009
6:19 pm

Hello,
Mark, I noticed you have taken Deadspin off the Blogroll. Given the less than kind coverage after the Cleveland local television fiasco, I certainly understand.

Also, who would you like the Hawks to take at 19th? If they take Hansborough, I am going to be sick. Shockingly, a few mocks have Jrue Holiday still available at 19.
Cheers,
J

Bigeasy830

June 3rd, 2009
6:26 pm

I agree with you Mark, Orlando in 6, simply because they are a match-up nightmare for almost every team in the NBA with the exception of possibly Denver. Howard is the best center in the league and Turkoglu and Lewis are two 6′10″ very skilled players, plus Skip to my Lou is balling out of control at the point, I fear that Van Gundy will mess up the chemistry by giving minutes to Nelson who has to be rusty.

lee

June 3rd, 2009
7:07 pm

the magic won’t win because Phil Jackson will not make the same coaching mistakes as Mike Brown. For example,putting Lebron on Rafer Alston. And the bad thing is Lebron made him a star because Alston was the 3rd leading scorer,Rafer Alston!!!. The lakers will never let Alston be a star in the series. Or playing guys(Gibson,Sacha,Wally) one game in the rotation then not playing them the next game. It kills a players confidence. Also,Jackson would not fool himself into believing they can win a title with 2 small point guards playing together!Defensively,the were too small. The jumpshots will be more difficult to make against tall Lakers like Kobe,Ariza,Vujacic,Walton and even the physical Fisher. I said in january the Cavs can not win in june with Williams and West. Williams has never been in the playoffs before. You saw his immaturity when predicting they would win the series! What kind of coach would let his players make comments like that or make a spectacle of warm up by letting lebron take imaginery pictures.The only chance the Magic have is if Nelson is healthy. Small quick point guards give the lakers problems.

Blast

June 3rd, 2009
7:44 pm

Rooting for Orlando to take the championship.

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Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

June 4th, 2009
10:53 am

Just because this Orlando team rolled over King James and the Cavs doesn’t mean that the same thing will happen with LA. Cleveland simply did not match up well against the Magic and Van Gundy exploited the match ups.
Things will be different against LA for a few reasons.

1) Ilgauskas is not quick or strong enough to deal with Howard, but Andruw Bynum is. I’m not saying Bynum is going to stop Howard, but if Kendrick Perkins could guard Howard without help from a double team then Bynum, who is bigger, stronger, and more athletic than Perkins, should be able to hold his own.

2) Anderson Varejao is not agile enough to deal with Rashard Lewis when the Magic are on offense, but Lewis also wasn’t threatened by Varejao when the Cavs had the ball. Against the Lakers, Lewis will still have some advantages on the offensive end, but he will get murdered by Gasol on the defensive end. And when Lamar Odom comes into the game, he will no longer have an advantage because Odom is quick enough to guard him on the perimeter.

3) Who’s gonna guard KOBE?? Courtney Lee??? Pietrus??
Everyone is raving about the defense Pietrus played against LBJ and saying it will be the same against Kobe. Forgive me if i don’t find that letting a guy average about 38 ppg to be an accomplishment. Kobe already faced the two best perimeter defenders in Shane Battier and Ron Artest. Do you think anyone on the Magic poses him any threat??

4) You mentioned that the post play of Orlando is what separated them in the Cleveland series.
Well the Lakers have about 4 guys they can play through in the post with Bynum, Gasol, Kobe, and Lamar Odom.

5) The Laker bench is much better than the Magic bench. And unlike the Cavs bench, the Laker bench can come in and score.

6) Phil Jackson. He’s GREAT at making adjustments. Mike Brown proved he still has a ways to go in that department because he never did figure out what to do with Rashard Lewis or Howard.

7) Experience. This Laker team still has a nasty taste in their mouths from last years Finals. They know what playing on this stage is all about. Seems like the Magic are in the whole “happy to be here” stage. And happy to be there is not going to win them any games at this level.

Simply put, the Magic is a good team. I told people ALL season not to underestimate them. But the buck stops here.
The NBA game is all about match ups and the Lakers have more favorable match ups to their advantage than the Magic do.

Lakers in 6!

Lakers Bandwagon Fan

June 4th, 2009
12:03 pm

Well said Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid. LAKERS IN SIX!

Douglas

June 4th, 2009
7:36 pm

Great story!!!!! Hey kool aid man, You have alot of assumptions in your post. “Lakers bench is much better than Orlando” Where was this bench when the Magic beat you twice this year? Kobe had two GREAT games yet went home with two losses.
“Phil is great at making adjustments” Do you not think Stan is also great at making adjustments? Why then is the Magic so explosive in the third? (Answer-adjustments)
You are right about one thing, this will be over in six but Orlando will win game six in LA for the title!!!!!!!!

Mark Bradley

June 4th, 2009
11:09 pm

I never had Deadspin on the blogroll. Perhaps that was someone else.

vtye

June 5th, 2009
3:28 pm

Mark,

Uh oh…..

After watching game one, last night, perhaps I should change from Lakers in six to Lakers in five games.

The Lakers ‘BIGS’ are really way to large, mobile and skilled for Orlando. Howard had a lot of trouble beating anyone to his spot. He was receiving the post up pass a step or two further out than normal.

The Lakers are playing an excellent matchup zone which prevented some of the easy shots Lewis and Turkoglu live upon against Cleveland.

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