L.A. beat the Utah Jazz in five games, the Houston Rockets in seven and the Denver Nuggets in six, but there weren’t many smiles among the Lakers after winning the Western Conference Trophy.
Their collective mind was too busy thinking about the basketball kind of Magic to smile.
“We are extremely focused and we are ready,” said Luke Walton after Sunday’s practice*. “We have some time to rest our bodies, but we are excited to get started.”
*Click here for post-practice video of Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown
That the Lakers are back in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year and 30th time in franchise history isn’t so much of a surprise to the team that came into the season favored by pundits and, well, themselves, to emerge out of the West. The same, however, can’t be said about their opponent, considered at best the third option to Boston and Cleveland even after Kevin Garnett’s injury. Yet after defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games, it took Orlando seven to defeat the defending champion Celtics and six to bury Cleveland, winning twice on the road in both Philly and Boston before earning the Eastern Conference trophy at home.
Like the dove out of the magician’s hat, the secret on the Magic is officially out: They’re good.
L.A. got a hint of that in the regular season as Orlando joined Charlotte as the only NBA teams not to lose to the Lakers in the regular season, winning close games that came down to key three pointers from the now-injured Jameer Nelson. But the Lakers aren’t thinking too much about the regular season not just because Orlando’s playing better ball, but because despite 65 wins L.A. clearly didn’t bring its A-game on a nightly basis … And who in the NBA could? More pointedly, the Lakers may not have seen Orlando as they did Boston, Cleveland or San Antonio in the regular season, but they do now.
The matchup is surely intriguing for the Lakers, particularly because of the unique style of the Magic, which features a true outside-in system boasting very good three-point shooters surrounding the exceedingly physical Dwight Howard. Their system proved too much for Cleveland, but there’s one major difference between the Cavs and Lakers: L.A. has three big men – Andrey Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom – that can individually attack Howard on defense, and two seven footers – if not three (Bynum, Gasol, D.J. Mbenga) – that will play him straight up on defense. Furthermore, while Rashard Lewis makes it tough on most opposing fours with his perimeter nature, L.A. feels that Pau Gasol can use his length to stay with Lewis on defense and his size to attack him on the block at the other.
“Pau can move his feet really well for how tall he is,” said Walton. “He has to be up to the challenge of Lewis and knowing Pau, he will be, so we may have an advantage there.”
Monday afternoon on Lakers.com, we’ll take you through a detailed and complete breakdown of each position-by-position matchup such as Gasol-Lewis, we’ll pick the brain of Lakers advance scout Rasheed Hazzard upon his return trip from scouting Orlando and we’ll review L.A.’s journey through the Western playoffs.
Until then, here are a few numbers upon which to chew:
Combined field goals made by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in the first three rounds on only 441 attempts. Howard led all playoff performers with a 62.2 shooting percentage, while Gasol was third with 57.4 percent from the field.
The number of wins L.A. would have at season’s end were they to accomplish their ultimate championship goal, the same number as Kobe Bryant’s career high point total.
Shooting percentage for Trevor Ariza in the playoffs after a 46-percent effort in the regular season. His playoff touch had him 4th in the entire NBA in FG%, while his 30-of-60 from three-point territory was good for 6th in the NBA.
Three-point percentage in the playoffs for Lamar Odom, good for 5th in the NBA and the highest of any remaining player. Bit of a shocker for a guy that shot 32 percent in the regular season, right? The team that’s thought of as the better three-point shooting team, Orlando, actually failed to have even one player over 40 percent, as Mickael Pietrus shot 39.3 percent to lead Orlando, while Rashard Lewis was right behind with 39.1 percent. They made 69 combined triples, while Odom made only 14 on 27 attempts, but Ariza (50 percent) and Shannon Brown (48 percent) were also shooting with more precision than Orlando.
The high-scoring game for any Lakers player came from Bryant in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against Denver. Bryant also scored 40 in Game 1 against Denver and Game 2 of the second round against Houston. Pau Gasol was the only other Laker to hit the 30-point mark, which occurred in Game 4 at Houston.
Points scored by Howard in Sunday’s Game 6 win over Cleveland, the single-game high for any Magic player. Howard hit the 30-point mark in three other games in the first three rounds, while no other Magic player got there.
Scoring average for Bryant in the playoffs, good for second in the NBA behind LeBron James (35.3). Howard led Orlando with 21.7 points per game. Rashard Lewis was second with 19.4 per contest, while Pau Gasol put in 18.2 on a nightly basis.
Rebounds per game grabbed by Howard, the most in the playoffs. Gasol led L.A. with 11.3 per game, good for fifth in the playoffs, while Lamar Odom was 8th with 9.5 per game.
Assists per game averaged by Hedo Turkoglu to lead Orlando, while Bryant’s 4.9 were tops for L.A.
Home games lost by each team in their respective conferences. Houston surprised L.A. with a 100-92 win in Game 1 of the second round, while Denver took Game 2 of the WCF 106-103. Orlando opened the playoffs with a 100-98 loss on Andre Iguodala’s buzzer beater, and Boston won Game 4 95-94 on a Glen Davis jumper.