What If? Series: 2009 Orlando Magic vs. Denver Nuggets

Dwight Howard and Nene would have been an intriguing and testing battle if the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets met in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Dwight Howard and Nene would have been an intriguing and testing battle if the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets met in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /
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Kenyon Martin, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers
Kenyon Martin even as a traditional power forward presented matchup problems in 2009 when facing the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Matchup — New vs. Old

The 2009 Finals was indeed a matchup of the past against the future, even if everyone did not know it at the time.

Kobe Bryant was still the king of the isolation and the Los Angeles Lakers trotted out a lineup that featured two seven-footers, believing size would reign over everyone. But the Orlando Magic quickly made the Los Angeles Lakers rethink that premise.

Dwight Howard bullied Andrew Bynum on the block and often got him quickly out of games. The Lakers found their best lineup actually mirrored the Magic’s small lineups with Lamar Odom sliding over to the 4 and Trevor Ariza at the 3.

Los Angeles figured out the only way to slow down Orlando’s offensive juggernaut was to match its size and versatility.

This was partly the case in the Western Conference Finals too and a reason the Lakers came out on top.

Bryant got his — 34.5 points per game — but it was Odom and Ariza stepping up their production that got Los Angeles over the top.

Odom averaged 11.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, shooting 55.6 percent from three in 31.0 minutes per game. Ariza averaged 12.3 points and shot 50.0 percent from deep in 28.9 minutes per game.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol still had the bulk of the scoring in the series. But it was the support of Ariza and Odom — and the diminishing of Bynum to 19.9 minutes per game — that delivered the Lakers to the Finals.

Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets /

Denver Nuggets

In Games 5 and 6, after Denver tied the series at 2-2, it was Odom and Ariza who proved the difference.

In a 103-94 Game 5 victory, Odom came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 14 rebounds. In the 119-92 series-clinching Game 6, Ariza had 17 points, including 3-for-4 shooting from deep, and Odom 20 points and eight rebounds.

That exact versatility that forced the Nuggets to go small is eventually what doomed them. Denver did not have enough shooting to keep the floor spaced and vary their offensive attack. They became dinosaurs overnight.

It is hard not to think the same would have happened in a series against the Magic.

Hedo Turkoglu had taken over as the finisher and essentially second-half point guard for the Magic. He caused a nightmare matchup as no one in the league really had a player who could defend a 6-foot-10 point guard like him. Especially with Dwight Howard setting screens for him.

Similarly, Rashard Lewis as a shooter would spread the floor. And he was particularly feeling it in that Eastern Conference Finals (48.4 percent from deep in that series). That hot streak ran out going up against better perimeter defenders in Odom and Ariza in the Finals, where he shot 40.0-percent from deep in the Finals, but almost exclusively taking threes.

Lewis made a living in 2009 and 2010 beating up on traditional power forwards who wanted no business going out on the perimeter.

Would the Nuggets have been willing to move Anthony to power forward and play small? It almost seems doing that would be admitting the Magic had the upper hand.

A series between the Magic and Nuggets would come down to whether Rashard Lewis could get George Karl to blink on that front. Lewis always held his own against those bulky power forwards. Denver would lose a lot if it could not play Kenyon Martin and Nene together.