Sunday, May 31, 2009

Basketball: Orlando and Cleveland

Stat of the Orlando-Cleveland series: Ben Wallace, 22 total rebounds in six games. Remember when that would be his nightly production? I'm not blaming any single player for the loss, but Cleveland needs to give LeBron bigger/taller teammates.

When I look at Cleveland's roster, I see no defensive presence. Wallace is only 6'9''. Gibson, Szczerbiak, and Mo' Williams aren't great defenders. In fact, on many teams, they would be sixth men. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you can't win an NBA Championship without great defense. If you could, Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns would have three rings now.

My prediction? Orlando in 7 against the Lakers. Orlando's success should not be surprising to fans who followed R. Lewis's career in Seattle. He was putting up 20 points a night regularly. With Turkoglu, Lewis, and Alston, Orlando is always a threat to make a three-pointer, which opens the paint for Howard. As we've seen, that inside-outside threat is difficult to handle. Also, between Pietrus and Howard, Orlando brings enough toughness on defense to win the championship. Pietrus's three-point shooting has been a nice surprise, and if he keeps shooting a high percentage, Orlando will always be in the game.

As for the Lakers, they have Gasol, but he's no Howard. Bynum isn't developed yet to make much of an impact (he scored a whopping 2 points in his most recent game). When you really look at the Lakers' roster, they've got Kobe and Gasol, with the occasional trey from "The Machine." That won't be enough to beat Orlando.

In fact, the only way I see the Lakers winning the championship is if the referees hand them the game. I give Orlando seven games to close out the Lakers, not because I think the talent level is close, but because I think the referees help the Lakers. Orlando is still a young team looking for respect, which hurts them when it comes to getting calls.

For example, did you see the ref call a taunting technical on Howard? On church-going, gospel-listening Dwight Howard?! Meanwhile, Kobe has become much better at handling the referees. Did you see him get Artest tossed? Hands in the air, a look of displeasure on his face, as if to say, "I can't believe I'm in the same room as you." And he still got Artest thrown out. If I'm Stan Van Gundy, I tell my team, "No technicals. I don't care how p*ssed you get. No technicals. We get the ball back and score. Forget the refs. If anyone gets tossed, it'll be me, not you."

Orlando in 7 or fewer.

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