It was all Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA FInals on Thursday as Los Angeles rolled to a 100-75 win over the Magic. If Dwight Howard and Orlando is going to have a shot in this series, they know they have to pull at least one rabbit from their hat at the Staples Center. Game 2 is set for Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern from the Staples Center in LA with ABC providing the telecast.
The “Black Mamba” is poised to strike again as the LA Lakers host the Orlando Magic tonight in Game Two of the NBA finals.
Kobe Bryant scored a career playoff high 40 points in the series opener. He looked like a man possessed and a man single-handedly determined to erase the bitter taste of a finals loss last year to the Celtics. Bryant scored 18 points in the first half and then took over in the third quarter scoring 18 of the Lakers' 29 points.
Courtney Lee and Mikael Pietrus both took turns guarding Bryant, neither with much success. As Rafer Alson put it his team’s goal now is to keep Bryant from getting 50. Unfortunately for the Magic defense hasn’t been their calling card in the post-season. They doesn’t figure to change much now.
The Lakers had to like another number they saw on the stat sheet. LA had 56 points in the paint compared to 22 for Orlando. They outshot the Magic 46% to 29% and held Orlando to 8-of-23 from 3-point land. LA also won the battle of the boards as well, posting a 55-41 rebounding edge. I’m reminded of former Lakers coach Pat Riley and his mantra: “No rebounds, No rings.”
Lost perhaps in Kobe’s huge night was the defensive job the Lakers did on Dwight Howard who was held to just 12 points, nine below his playoff average. The Lakers used what Phil Jackson described as a slow-moving double team in which they waited for Howard to begin his move with a dribble before sending help. While Andrew Bynum had Howard straight up, Lamar Odom or Trevor Arizona and even Derek Fisher dropped down to help defend Howard. How Stan Van Gundy counters that defensive scheme will key to getting the Magic big man more involved in the offense.
Bynum’s Game 1 performance hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Lakers big man, who has been criticized for his lackadaisical effort in the postseason, held his own against Howard in Game 1 scoring nine points and pulling down nine rebounds. He was a big reason Howard began the game one of six from the field. If Bynum can stay out of foul trouble (a big if) he gives the Lakers a weapon that Boston and Cleveland didn’t have. If Bynum can contribute more that 22 minutes tonight, it’s likely the Lakers will head to Orlando with a 2-0 series lead.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy faces some tough decisions in Game 2. If he tries to match the Lakers size — using more of Tony Battie and/or center Marcin Gortat — he sacrifices on the outside shooting and gets away from the style his team has played all season.
The truth is the matchup advantages that the Magic enjoyed against the Cavs aren’t there against the Lakers. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and combined for 15 of the Lakers 41 buckets in Game 1 and present a “height” challenge that Superman alone can’t be expected to handle.
Shooting, rebounding and guarding Bryant are three areas in which Orlando must improve on if they’ve got any hope of stealing Game 2. But that’s easier said than done and still might not be enough to hold off the inevitable.
The Lakers are favored tonight by 6½ with the total at 202. The series price for the Lakers to capture their 15th NBA title is now -325, up from -285 when the series started. The Magic are +265 to win the series. However before you lay down money on the attractive price for the Magic, remember that Phil Jackson coached teams are 31-0 in a seven game series in which they win the opener.
Don't forget to check out the NBA Finals Contest.