- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009


Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Rafer Alston

Fisher has Alston beat in championship experience, having been on board for the Lakers’ three championships from 2000 to 2002, but Fisher (9.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.3 rbg) has showed signs of slowing down this postseason and isn’t as effective on either end of the floor - especially defensively - as he once was. This marks the first championship appearance for Alston (11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.9 rpg), but his contributions have been key to Orlando’s success. The Magic acquired him in a midseason trade with Houston after Jameer Nelson suffered what was first considered a season-ending shoulder injury. Alston gives Orlando a quicker, more explosive scoring option at point guard than Los Angeles has in Fisher.

Edge: Orlando.

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Courtney Lee

This is the sixth NBA Finals appearance for Bryant (26.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.9 apg) but only his second as top dog after essentially being Shaquille O’Neal’s sidekick in three successful title runs and one failed quest. Bryant and the Lakers fell short against Boston last summer, but the 2008 MVP is hungrier than ever to silence the critics that he can’t win a ring as a leading man. For the playoffs, Bryant is averaging 29.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Magic rookie Courtney Lee is solid but will have his hands full if he’s charged with guarding the two-time scoring champion.

Edge: Los Angeles.

Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Hedo Turkoglu

Ariza has become one of the Lakers’ top defenders this season, and he’s also a clutch perimeter threat. He played sparingly last season, but he moved into the starting lineup this year and averaged 8.9 ppg and 4.3 rpg. In the playoffs, his production has increased to averages of 11.4 points and 3.7 rebounds, and he’s shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. Turkoglu has the height advantage, and his statistics (16.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.9 apg) top Ariza’s. He isn’t the defender Ariza is, but he causes matchup problems as a 6-foot-10, ball-handling small forward. Shots likely won’t fall as easily for Turkoglu against Los Angeles as they did in the Eastern Conference finals, when he faced undersized defenders. At times, Turkoglu fails to take advantage of his size and lets smaller defenders dictate to him.

Edge: Los Angeles.

Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Rashard Lewis

Unlike last postseason when Gasol had to play center because of the absence of Andrew Bynum, the two-time All-Star can play his natural position. Gasol (18.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg) gives the Lakers versatility with his inside-outside game and ability to go up either hand. Lewis is a 6-foot-10 perimeter threat, but he’s a natural small forward. Like Turkoglu, he will have a harder time this series than he did against the Cavaliers.

Edge: Lakers.

Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Dwight Howard

Bynum was an observer for last year’s run to the finals and missed the second half of this year’s regular season with a torn MCL. He’s still getting his rhythm back. He has displayed inconsistencies. Howard is the most dominant low-post player in this series. In two games against the Lakers this season, Howard averaged 21.5 points and 15.0 rebounds. The defensive player of the year has averaged 21.7 points, 15.4 rebounds and 2.22 blocks this postseason opposed to Bynum’s averages of 3.3 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Edge: Orlando

Bench: Lakers vs. Magic

Odom, the Lakers’ versatile sixth man, can handle the ball and score in a variety of ways while also averaging 9.5 rebounds. The Lakers also have Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic to call on, while the lone bench scoring threat for the Magic is guard Mickael Pietrus. Jameer Nelson is expected to play in the finals but likely will have some rust, and his return could prove more disruptive than helpful.

Edge: Los Angeles

Coaches: Phil Jackson vs. Stan Van Gundy

Jackson is going for a record 10th title. Van Gundy is going for his first, and although he has gotten a lot out of this Orlando team, he has made some poor coaching decisions as well. It would be hard for any coach in the league to edge out the Zen master in head-to-head competition.

Edge: Los Angeles

Prediction: Lakers in six Los Angeles has too much firepower and experience for Orlando to overcome. Aside from center and point guard, the Magic are at a disadvantage. The Lakers have the length and perimeter defenders to make life uncomfortable for the Magic. Jackson soon will have rings for all his fingers, and Bryant will have his fourth.

Three story lines

1. Kobe’s quest - This marks the sixth NBA Finals appearance for Bryant and his second without Shaquille O’Neal. Bryant last season failed to lead the Lakers to their 15th title. Given what appears to be the golden opportunity - experienced supporting cast, inexperienced Orlando team — and the fact that this could be Phil Jackson’s last season on the sideline, the “Black Mamba” appears poised to strike.

2. Howard’s chip - All season long, Dwight Howard had to hear that his Magic team wasn’t on the level of the Cavaliers or the Celtics. Then during the conference finals, he had to watch all the Kobe-LeBron MVPuppets commercials and hear how it was a given the two stars would meet in the finals. Now he has to hear how the Lakers are the team of destiny. He has carried his team further than anyone expected. Can he take it one step further?

3. Phil’s 10th ring - Phil Jackson has battled health problems much of the season and said he has considered retiring after this season. He’s tied with Red Auerbach for the most career titles as a coach with nine, and a finals win would give him his 10th ring and allow him to go out on top.

- Mike Jones


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