The 2010-11 season is right around the corner. No, it is like literally right around the corner. Training camps open in a few weeks and we can finally stop conjecturing and start making sense of this summer of upheaval. The new season will be much different than the old. So let’s start thinking 2011 and all the hope and promise that comes with it.
Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog.com has organized the NBA Blog Preview, consisting of all the best basketball blogs across the Internet, to help everyone get ready. The Magic will be coming up sooner rather than later and the season will be around the corner. I will be trying to keep up and give a Magic-centered look at each team being previewed.
Los Angeles Lakers
Last Year: 57-25, NBA Champions
Last Year vs. Magic: Lost 98-92 in Los Angeles (1/18); Won 96-94 in Orlando (3/7)
This Year vs. Magic: Feb. 13 in Orlando (3:30 p.m, ABC.); March 14 in Los Angeles (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
Magic Connection: Matt Barnes (Player, 2009-10); Assistant Coach Brian Shaw (Player, 1994-1997)
The Lakers do not need much introduction. We all know who the defending champions are and what they are about. Kobe Bryant is still one of the top two players in the league. Pau Gasol is a versatile center with (near-)point guard passing skills that make him a perfect fit in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Ron Artest is the wild-card defensive ace that makes life difficult for Bryant in practice and opponents in games.
The rich got richer with the addition of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff. And there is still Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum roaming around making Los Angeles a humongous matchup nightmare for any team.
But the one constant remains Phil Jackson. The Zen Master. The Man of 11 Championships and an astounding 11-1 record in the NBA Finals. It is pretty incredible to consider Jackson will be gunning for his fourth three-peat this season.
And this could be Jackson’s greatest coaching achievement. Everyone is talking about Miami’s new trio and even Las Vegas has the Heat running as the odds-on favorite to win the title this year. If the league should have learned one thing in Kobe Bryant’s 15-year career it is not to motivate him in any way. That should make Phil Jackson’s job that much easier.
You may remember Jackson completely outcoaching Stan Van Gundy in the 2009 Finals. He is the big motivator and has always found a way to get the most from his teams. And so this could be his greatest challenge.
The Lakers have been to the Finals the last three years. Bryant has reached the top of the mountain five times, beating his contemporaries — Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan — to that feat and gaining perhaps “Greatest of his Generation” status. But he is starting to break down, if just a little. He played almost non-stop from 2007 until 2009. And while he is willing to play through anything, it is beginning to show just a bit.
But this should still be a motivated group. And it should be a group that wants to win its third consecutive title. The Lakers are getting closer and closer to matching the Celtics’ mark of 18 NBA titles.Bryant will want to quiet those voices emanating from South Florida.
Be sure Jackson will be able to settle all the distractions and motivate his team to look for that three-peat. Believe that the NBA championship still goes through Los Angeles.
How the Lakers will beat the Magic: Los Angeles beat Orlando in 2009 through its versatility. The Magic like to think they can play any style depending on opponents and matchup. Well, the Lakers actually do it. And do it really well.
The Andrew Bynum-Pau Gasol front line is a matchup nightmare for any team. Gasol and Bynum complement each other well. But when one — usually Bynum — gets in foul trouble, Lamar Odom comes in. And he causes his own matchup issues. Remember, it was Odom who tore up Rashard Lewis throughout the NBA Finals and allowed Los Angeles to limit Orlando’s 3-point shooting. Gasol had a big hand in that too.
Los Angeles can really put out a lineup that is not only effective but can play any way you want to play… and beat you at it.
How the Magic will beat the Lakers: But Los Angeles does have two weaknesses. The team lacks good perimeter shooting, especially from 3-point range. Orlando can take advantage of that by having Dwight Howard in the paint and packing it in. By forcing Kobe to be a 3-point shooter, you take away a lot of his effectiveness.
The other weakness is at the point. Derek Fisher is a good point guard, but is a little long in the tooth. Steve Blake will be an improvement as the backup. But we remember Jameer Nelson torching Los Angeles in two wins during the 2008-09 regular season (not the Playoffs, but still).
The most important factor though is Rashard Lewis. Lewis’ matchup with Gasol was an issue during the Finals in 2009. But he was outplayed by Odom throughout that series.
Howard needs to find a way to be dominant in the post amongst the trees L.A. throws at him. That means Lewis has to make the Lakers pay for doubling Howard. Orlando goes in big games often by how Lewis plays — think the difference between the 2009 and 2010 Eastern Conference Finals series. That should be no different in this matchup.