Orlando or Cleveland: LeChoice?
I've been anxiously awaiting a "no jinx" opportunity to ask a question that's piqued my curiosity of late. And with the Lakers now officially in the NBA Finals, I have my chance.
Who would you rather face, the Orlando Magic or the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Let me say right from Jump Street that I don't believe a "right" answer exists. There are legit pros and cons with either squad. It's no longer an Eastern Conference where the crowned party wouldn't win 50 game in the West. The Lakers won't be facing the 2009 version of the Kidd-Kenyon-Jefferson New Jersey Nets. Both teams are very good, and will likely present challenges for the Lakers. If you picked Orlando purely for the home court advantage (or to avoid a 2-3-2 structure that unfairly punishes the road squad), that's a valid enough reason in and of itself. One of many, I'd say.
I'm curious, though, how much varying opinions are fueled largely- if not completely- by the "Kobe-LeBron" thing.
Debating who's the best between Kobe Bryant or LeBron James has become something of a 24/7 national pastime. No, YOU get out of here, because it's true. And maybe it's just me, but I get the sense that many a Lakers Blog reader feels like LeBron James has been shoved down his or her throats at the expense of Kobe Bryant. They think ESPN pays more attention to LeBron than Kobe. LBJ "took" Kobe's MVP award in a vote decided during the preseason. James simply gets by on athleticism, size, strength and speed. (I must admit, that one makes me laugh.) He hasn't paid all the necessary dues. His puppet gets better lines and slightly more airtime than Kobe's. And yada, yada, yada, right down the line. Because of all that "yada," Lakers fans would love to see James fail to even lead his best overall record, pre-game celebrating, Heineken commercial imitating, "anointed to be on a mission since December" team to the Finals. The King falling flat on his face. That would be awesome, no?
Well, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
While such a scenario would keep a certain degree of bragging rights on the west coast, it also leaves the Lakers squaring off against a very difficult and underrated Orlando Magic team that, in my opinion, presents more matchup issues.
For example, Andrew Bynum, from a purely defensive standpoint, is a better cover than Pau Gasol against big man beast Dwight Howard. Ditto Lamar Odom over El Spaniard in checking mobile PF Rashard Lewis. But here's the catch. Gasol has played consistently better than either one of them, and the Laker tends to occur with Pau on the floor. How do you strike that balance? Obviously, Gasol isn't incapable of checking Lewis in space and would likely find more success than Drew putting Superman in foul trouble, but you're nonetheless dealing with an issue not even remotely presented by Cleveland. With all due respect to Zydrundas Ilgauskas, Joe Smith, Anderson Varajao and Ben Wallace, the Laker frontcourt has their counterparts beat on both sides of the ball.
And who guards Hedo Turkoglu, drastically improved from his days as a Sacto supporting players? He's great size at the three (two inches and ten pounds on Trevor Ariza), plus ball handling skills and speed (that could leave Luke Walton in the dust). Depending on the floor combination, maybe LO shadows him in a cross-match of sorts. Or, as is often the solution for "Situation X," you leave it to Kobe. But unless the equilateral scoring during the WCF Games 5 and 6 is a sign of things to come, will that much time on Hedo leave Bryant gassed? He certainly showed signs of wear during the Nuggets series. The time off between series will help and Kobe only needs to go "huevos out" for seven more games, tops. But still, it does raise valid concerns, as does Mickael Pietrus' ability to make James work for points, which could very well be a preview of what awaits The Mamba.
In the meantime, playing Cleveland really comes down to neutralizing LeBron. Seriously. Dude is leading his team in points, three point accuracy, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes played. To say he's not getting much help these days would be a massive understatement (and if James thinks it sucks now, wait until he's stuck carrying his team AND guarding Kobe). Until those other cats show up, between the Lakers' recent success slowing Carmelo Anthony and what I imagine will be more freedom for Gasol and Bynum to provide a final line of lane clogging, battling LBJ solo feels easier than battling the Magic roster 1-12. Not "easy," mind you. But "easier." I'd even be willing to give up home court to work what appear to be mismatches in the Lakers' favor, especially since the Lakers have been good on the road.
Then again, those reasons I cited to play the Cavs may pale by comparison to simply the desire to watch Kobe get a title at the direct expense of LeBron. To see LBJ pull his team out from a 3-1 deficit, spend the next couple of weeks hearing about the newest chapter of LeBron's "legend," then watch Kobe get the last laugh and raise the O'Brien. The ultimate cruel tease perpetrated against James, his gang and the entire city of Cleveland. If Lakers fans truly are that nauseated by LeBron, why miss out on the pleasure of seeing him look like he's about to puke?
So all things being equal, I'm choosing Cleveland. Let me hear your call. And whichever team you'd rather see come June 4th, I think we can all agree on one thing: Let's have that team emerge the victor of a SEVEN game series.
For what it's worth, if my fiancee gets a vote, the Lakers play Orlando and she gets at least four more games staring at Howard, the object of her drooling. Apparently, he's somewhat built. I hadn't noticed.
Photo: Dwight Howard as Superman. Credit: Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Image
Photo: LeBron James drives. Credit: John Biever/SI