Please read the site note at the bottom of this post.
Before I even get into the commentary about potential adjustments in the series by the Orlando Magic, or what the Los Angeles Lakers must do to achieve yet another NBA Finals championship, let’s quickly look at raw numbers regarding a team’s ability to come back in a series after building a two game deficit early in an NBA Finals series.
Since the NBA Finals began in 1947 (when the winner got the rather snazzy looking Walter A. Brown trophy), only three teams have surmounted an 0-2 hole. The Boston Celtics did it in 1969, the Portland Trailblazers in 1977, and the Miami Heat three short years ago in 2006. It appears history is wearing yellow and blue to the games, doesn’t it?
In this year’s version of the finals, the Magic have dug themselves a hole by suffering at the hands of the same approach that helped them beat the Cleveland Cavaliers – the 3-point shot. After shooting a lights-out 41% from long range in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Magic are shooting just 33% as a team now. The Magic’s overall shooting percentage has plummeted, too. After shooting 48% from the field in the Conference Finals, they’re shooting just 36% now. Why the sudden drop in numbers?
It wasn’t the layoff between series that cooled the Magic off – it’s simply better defense from the Lakers that’s doing the trick.
The Lakers have decided they have the interior defense to beat Magic center Dwight Howard. Andrew Bynum (7’0”), Pau Gasol (7’0”) and Lamar Odom (6’10”) have combined to play excellent defense on Howard. After averaging over 25 points a game against the Cavs, Howard is down to under 15 versus the Lakers. When the Laker guards come down to double team Howard, they all rotate intelligently to prevent many open 3-point shots, and do a good job at swiping at the ball. Howard is offensively gifted, but he is also offensively immature at times, too. One way the immaturity manifests itself is in how he holds the ball down below his waist when starting his move to the basket. That’s an easy target for quick defenders like guards Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher who disrupt Howard’s move without completely abandoning their perimeter defensive assignment (like the Cavs recklessly did, time and again).
The Magic’s best offense options all come through Howard, especially when he gets the ball in the low-post and passes back to the perimeter for an open 3-pointer. The Lakers do not always have to double-team Howard, so the passing options aren’t as plentiful for the big center. The Laker big men have also done an excellent job of denying the Howard the ball inside. The Magic can adjust by running the high pick ‘n roll, but the Laker centers are all athletic enough to run with Howard and deny the entry pass, while the Cavs relied on low-post defensive rotation to get in front of Howard (even though it seems like no one told Anderson Varejao that idea).
The Magic have no shot at this series because the Lakers are a more athletic, more consistent team on offense and defense. If you look at the same Conference Finals to NBA Finals statistical comparison I highlighted for the Magic, it’s easy to see the Lakers are consistent. The Lakers have made 46% of their shots in both series, are actually shooting three percentage points worse from long range in the NBA Finals, but are grabbing roughly 45 rebounds a game, nearly an exact match between series.
The Lakers are more experienced, they have a better coach (with shirtsleeves), and they have a superstar who knows how to play in a big series. They have poise. But, most importantly, they have celebrity fans who actually care and also still rock the midriff shirts (if you clicked on that… my apologies). How could a team have more signs that they were set to win it all?
I don’t mean to gloss over the coach thing. If the Lakers win, it’s Phil Jackson’s 10th NBA championship – more than anyone else in the history of the league. So, when comparing coaches, I’ll take the best NBA coach ever over a guy who couldn’t even win the coach of the year award over Mike Brown, who coached the team the Magic smashed in the Conference Finals.
And, Bleacher Fan – there’s a reason Courtney Lee was open for that shot.
I am in no way anointing the Lakers champions right now. But, it’s clear to me that the Magic have dug themselves a hole they aren’t equipped to get out of for a very simple reason: the Lakers are better than they are.
The Lakers win this in 5 games.