Friday, February 8th, 2008
Records: Los Angeles- 31-17, second place in the Atlantic division; Orlando- 32-19, 1st place in the Southeast division - L.A. on the road- 14-10; Orlando at home- 13-9
Line: Magic by 2
The Magic play the middle game of their five game home stand against the Los Angeles Lakers, who are in the sixth of a nine game road trip (3-2 thus far). This is the second and final meeting between the two clubs, with the first meeting going to Orlando, 104-97 back in December. The Lakers hold a dominating 29-9 lead in the all time series.
Los Angeles could be the best team in the Western Conference now that they picked up former Memphis Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol to go along with what is the closest thing to Michael Jordan the NBA has seen in Kobe Bryant. L.A. boasts a player with all around brilliance in Lamar Odom, and a more than functional point guard in Derek Fisher. Bryant leads the Lakers in scoring, averaging 27.6 ppg., followed by Gasol's 18.9 ppg., and Odom averages 13.4 ppg., and 9.6 rebounds. Orlando is fortunate enough to miss Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who averages 13.1 ppg, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks, but is still out with a knee injury.
The Lakers depth includes Luke Walton (son of Bill), who does the dirty work down low, has a consistent outside shot, and is a very accomplished passer. Los Angeles has guards Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, who are both deadly three-point shooters, and effort guys Ronny Turiaf and Vladamir Radmanovic. Making his first trip back to Orlando since being traded will be Trevor Ariza, who is shooting better than 50% from the field and averging better than 5 points per contest in just 15 minutes.
The Lakers have some of the NBA's most talented offensive players, and they rank third in the league in points scored (106.8 ppg.). L.A. is 3rd in field goal percentage (47.7%), 8th in three point shooting (37%), 16th in free throw percentage (75.06%), 5th in field goal percentage allowed (44.22%), 22nd in opponents ppg. (101.1), 9th in opponents three point shooting (35%), 6th in steals (8.1/gm.) and 24th in turnovers (14.8/gm.)4th in rebounding (44.4/gm.), and 3rd in assists (23.7/gm.).
Here's how Orlando matches up: 6th scoring (103.7 ppg.), 6th FG % (46.84%), 13th three point shooting (37%), 23rd FT% (72.56%), 7th FG% allowed (44.74%), 19th opponents scoring (100.4 ppg.), 14th opponents three point shooting (36%), 26th steals (6.3/gm.), 17th turnovers (14.4/gm.), 9th rebounding (42.4/gm.), and 23rd in assists (20.1/gm.).
Best matchup for Los Angeles:
Pau Gasol vs.Rashard Lewis- Although Lewis played great defense against Dirk Nowitzki Monday night, Pau Gasol will try and back him down and abuse Lewis in the post, like Dallas should have done with Dirk. Kobe Bryant would normally be the best matchup against anyone, but he has a dislocated pinky finger and hasn't scored much in the last two games. Gasol went for 17 points and 11 rebounds the last time he played against Orlando (with Memphis).
Best matchup for Orlando:
Dwight Howard vs. whoever the Lakers try to cover him with- With Andrew Bynum out of the L.A. lineup, the Lakers have been playing a smaller, quicker team with Gasol at center, Lamar Odom at power forward, and Luke Walton at small forward. Whichever player attempts to guard Howard will be at a major disadvantage in terms of size and strength. Look for Dwight to have a big night and/or dish it out to wide open shooters.
Keys to a Magic victory:
1. Get started early. Orlando has had sluggish starts in each of the two home games this week, and they can't afford to get down early against a supremely talented Lakers team. L.A. is at the middle of a long nine game road trip, and if the Magic can get up early, they may just fold, knowing that there will be an easy win waiting for them Sunday in Miami.
2. Hit your free throws. Needless to say, but the Magic can't leave any points out on the court against a team the caliber of L.A. The Lakers will score plenty of points, the Magic will need to match them.
3. Relish the opportunity. No Magic team has ever defeated the Lakers twice in a season. Even when the Magic had their great teams in the mid 90's, they were never able to complete the sweep against L.A. The Lakers don't consider the Magic any kind of rival, being that they only face twice per year, but when L.A. shows up to Orlando, thousands of bandwagon Lakers fans pull out their "Liberace-like" purple and yellow, and support "their" team. It's time for this Orlando team to send a message, and this game is a great opportunity.
For the Magic to pull a minor upset (even if the line doesn't reflect it), they will have to defend a Los Angeles team with weapons all over the court. The Magic could be catching L.A. at a good time, being that there is no Bynum, an injured Kobe, and Pau and the rest of their offense is still trying to see where all the pieces fit. If Howard can hit his free throws, the Magic have a legitimate shot in this one.
For our gamblers out there:
Basketball is a sucker's bet...unless you pick against me. I'm 1-3 in my last four games against the spread. As for my prediction: It's been said time and time again that the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. The Magic have been in existence for nearly 20 years and have never swept the Lakers. Take L.A. and the two points.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of MagicIllustrated.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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