Los Angeles Lakers will play host the Orlando Magic..."/> Los Angeles Lakers will play host the Orlando Magic..."/>

Orlando Magic @ Los Angeles Lakers


In a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers will play host the Orlando Magic on Monday night. The Lakers defeated the Magic 4 games to 1 to win the NBA Championship.

The Magic are reeling. They have lost six of their last eight games (including their last two) and were blown out by the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday and the Portland Trail Blazers Friday. The Magic have a lot more questions than answers right now. Several media outlets have discussed Dwight Howard’s struggles, Vince Carter’s poor shooting and now Rashard Lewis has publicly stated that he is not getting enough shots on his blog.

Things have been much better for the defending champions. The Lakers are a league-best 31-9. They have had winning streaks of 11, six, five, & four and have currently won two games in a row, but before winning those last two, the Lakers went through their worst stretch of the season, losing three out of four games. Of course, Gasol did not play in those games.

The Lakers have played 25 of their 40 games at home and are 22-3 in the Staples Center. The Magic are now just 12-10 on the road.

Tip-off from the Staples Center is set for 10:30 pm EST. The game will not be aired by FSN or Sun Sports, but will be broadcasted nationally by TNT. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can hear it locally on WDBO 580 AM and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.

The Line: Lakers -6.5



Dwight Howard
Rashard Lewis
Matt Barnes
Vince Carter
Jameer Nelson

Los Angeles

Andrew Bynum
Pau Gasol
Ron Artest
Kobe Bryant
Derek Fisher

The Lakers have been a little banged up. Prior to Friday’s win over the Clippers, Pau Gasol had missed six consecutive games with an injured hamstring. Gasol appeared to be healthy Friday. He played 30 minutes, scored 20 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.

Ron Artest sprained his index finger against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, but has played in both games since then.

The Lakers have been the best team in basketball so far this season. L.A. only ranks 12th in offensive efficiency but they average 103.6 points per game. L.A.’s defense has been great. They give up just 96.6 points per game and are #1 in defensive efficiency.

The offense is of course led by Kobe Bryant. Bryant, last season’s NBA Finals MVP, is the front runner to win league MVP this season. Bryant is averaging 28.8 points per game on 46.9% shooting. He’s also grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game and dishing out 4.5 assists per game. Bryant has averaged 26.0 points per game, 5.7 assists per game and 5.4 rebounds per game in his career against Orlando. Last season, Bryant scored 41 and 28 points in two regular season games against Orlando last year and averaged 32.4 points per game in the finals against the Magic.

Pau Gasol has been incredibly effective when he has played. He’s scoring 17.0 points per game on 54.8% shooting and is averaging a career-high 11.3 rebounds per game. Gasol gave the Magic fits during the finals last season. He averaged 18.6 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Gasol, combined with Andrew Bynum gave Dwight Howard a lot of trouble. Howard got his rebounds (15.2 per game) but only managed to score just 15.4 points per game. Howard averaged 4 turnovers per game and had two 7-turnover games (which came in Orlando’s two overtime losses (games 2 & 4) ). Gasol and Bynum were able to bang with Howard and frustrate him into turnovers and poor shots.

Bynum has been playing his best basketball this season, at least on the offensive end. He’s scoring 15.8 points per game on 55.8% shooting.

Howard is going to have to bring it on both ends of the floor, keep L.A.’s big men out of his head and limit his turnovers, which have really plagued him recently. Bynum is playing well, but Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson would like to see better defense from Bynum.

Jameer Nelson managed just 19 total points in the 2009 NBA finals, which was his return from a shoulder injury but during the regular season before Nelson was injured, he was excellent against the Lakers. Nelson scored 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting against the Lakers just over a year ago.  Then, in Orlando’s second meeting with the Lakers, Nelson had perhaps his best game. He scored 28 points, dished out 8 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds. In two games, Nelson scored 27.5 points per game, shot 58.8% from the field, 58.3% from downtown, had 6.5 assists per game, snatched 5.0 rebounds per game and the Magic won both games.

Unfortunately, Nelson is still showing signs of an injured knee. Nelson tore the meniscus in his left knee on November 16th. Nelson is averaging just 11.8 points per game on 42.2% shooting this season.

Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy has repeatedly stated that the Magic’s “big four” – Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson must play well and play well at the same time. That will have to happen if the Magic plan on defeating what has been the league’s best team.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)