So the NBA Finals start tonight at 8:30 on ABC and yes the first thing on everyone's mind is, where's LeBron James...? Surely this season can't end without a Kobe-LeBron showdown! It's been hyped all season, it's been almost promised to us throughout the start of the playoffs, what about the puppets! Won't somebody please think of the puppets!!
But don't worry casual fan, there ARE reasons for you to tune into these NBA Finals, even in the much anticipated showdown between two of the greats of the game today aren't facing off against each other. I'm fairly certain that if Dwight Howard wasn't such a laid back type of person he'd take offence to that statement I just made, Superman is quite dominant in the low post. However in terms of marketability it's true, this does not have the same fanfare as a Cavs-Lakers matchup would contain. But NBA Commissioner David Stern can't get luck with two marquee matchups back-to-back in the Finas. But what the Commish might get instead is a better Finals Series overall, and that might be a pretty good consolation.
THESE TEAMS HAVE SOME DEPTH
Reason the first to watch this Series: the games will be pretty good contests. If it wasn't hammered home hard enough watching Orlando win the Eastern Conference Final the Magic have more depth than Cleveland - Sidney Crosby is feeling LeBron's pain right now as he deals with a supporting cast (beyond Malkin) not pulling their weight, I guarantee you if Bill Guerin could pull the trigger Sid the Kid wouldn't be -2 throughout the first 3 games!
But I digress, this is about basketball, and that ECF was about exploiting the lack of bench depth for the Cavs. It was also about Orlando's team defence, something overlooked a little more than it should have been. When a jumpshooting team goes cold there has to be something to hold them in there and the D is what kep Orlando not only relevant but in control of their destiny. This L.A. squad is also quite deep beyond a rather impressive starting lineup and had the Cavs made it all the way this would be an even bigger disaster than is already being predicted. The Lakers still hold the title of overwhelming favourites but the depth of the Magic - especially should Jameer Nelson return anywhere near top form and see some serious minutes - will make LA earn their rings.
WHERE HEROICS HAPPEN!
The path to his "own" Championship, his "own" ring, is well documented, and the Kobe saga will continue to be detailed relentlessly throughout this series. Even Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, the Zen Master himself, has something to prove - can he win it all without the greatest ever in Michael Jordan or one of the greatest tandems ever in Shaq and Kobe?
But the real heroics will likely be seen on the opposite side of the court. It will be seen by the play of Jameer Nelson returning from a season ending shoulder injury, especially if he becomes a capable contributor to the games, coming off injury and returning to the court. It will be seen in the play of the defenders marking Kobe, likely Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee. They didn't stop LeBron (quite obvious by the amazing numbers the King put up) but they did get in his face and made him work for it. A player like Bryant can absolutely take command of a game, and now that he's started to distribute the ball (which is huge, Black Mamba don't bounce pass!) he's looking even more dangerous. Some big stops would help to lift Orlando, and are a tall order for these players. And Hedo Turkoglu has become nothing short of a great player this postseason, especially down the stretch in games, and his skill and experience will come up more than once before the Champion is decided.
Even should the Magic fall short of their goal some of their players will step up in ways no one ever expected. And Bryant, looking to finally get the monkey off his back, will provide plenty of excitement throughout.
One in the commentator booth, one flipping out on the sidelines. ABC has decided to stick with Jeff Van Gundy as a commentator even though his brother Stan Van Gundy is the Head Coach of the Orlando Magic, and that can only be a positive for us the viewers. Will Jeff criticize brother Stan? Will we get some insider information we would never be priviledged to in any other Finals matchup? (even if it's only by accident?). Jeff Van Gundy has turned into a rather outspoken NBA Commentator and his brother tan has been called the "Master of Panic" by none other than the Big Diesel Shaq himself and watching him out there it's hard to disagree, the man is quite animated. This combination should increase the entertainment value of the series and give a different perspective than previously witnessed.
So what's going to happen? Well the Lakers should win this one and rather easily, it's what most are saying it's true but really it's the logical conclusion. Should the Lakers not win this series there will be millions of questions in la-la-land and quite a story to be told about the Magic's incredible playoff run.
But even if Nelson makes a miraculous comeback, relieves Rafer Alston at the point and becomes a starter these Finals it's hard to say the Magic have a real advantage anywhere except with Dwight Howard matching up against Andrew Bynum, and seriously lack any player who matches up well with Bryant on either side of the ball. Miracles do happen in sports, and it might take another one of them to crown Orlando this year. However everyone was calling for Cleveland to easily walk thru Orlando, and the Cavs were lucky to put up such a fight when it was all said and done, I think it would be something to watch the overachieving Orlando Magic to give a serious push and take this all the way to Game 7 (if not win it all!).
But regardless of what happens you casual fans out there should not dismiss these Finals simply because the LeBron-Kobe matchup is not there, because in all likelihood this will be the better showdown. And while the marketing will suiffer in comparison, the entertainment value will far surpass.