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The Lakers' Edge

In one expert's view, Los Angeles's deep and rangy frontcourt will prove to be the difference

The Magic was a nightmare matchup for the Cavs, but the Lakers are a nightmare for the Magic. Defensively, the Lakers have great length and quickness at the forward position with Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, and if they need to shut down Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant can guard either of them. Lamar Odom's play is a big key. He's everything Cleveland's Anderson Varej√£o is not. He's comfortable defending on the perimeter and can rotate quickly to the open man.

Andrew Bynum probably won't be a huge factor—the Lakers' best lineup is with Odom at the four and Pau Gasol at the five—but he will be able to help them. He's the only L.A. big man who can defend Dwight Howard one-on-one: He can body up on Howard for four- or five-minute stretches and force him to make a basketball move. The Lakers are going to have to double-team Howard when Gasol is on him, but I expect them to copy what Boston did and send a point guard to double, leaving Rafer Alston or Anthony Johnson open. When the Lakers are on offense, Lewis is someone they can exploit in the post; he doesn't put up the greatest of fights down there. Both Odom and Gasol should be able to have their way with him.

It's fortunate that the Magic had to defend LeBron James last round, because that's the best way to prepare for defending Kobe. Orlando's going to stick with a lot of the same principles, using Mickael Pietrus on Kobe a lot and keeping an extra defender in his line of sight the way Boston and Denver do—even though Orlando doesn't have the frontcourt defenders to do it as effectively. On offense the Magic's best hope is to create the same kind of spacing and separation they had against Cleveland to open things up on the perimeter. But if the Lakers can get out on Orlando's shooters—and they have the horses to do it—they should control this series. My prediction: Lakers in six.



INSIDE AND OUT The versatile Odom should help Bryant (right) reap a title.