Sure, there were plenty of fans and media (here) who anticipated a Cleveland-L.A. Finals. But after watching the Cavaliers stumble against Orlando, it's become obvious that the Lakers-Magic should be more competitive than the series just about everyone seemed to want.
So, L.A.-Orlando works for us. Five thoughts:
Dwight Howard will be less comfortable against the Lakers than he was against Cleveland.
The Cavaliers seemed content to guard Howard as if he were just like any other center in the NBA so it wasn't surprising that he was so effective in the series. Howard's post game receives its fair share of criticism, and rightfully so. But that doesn't mean you can just throw anybody on him and move on to the next matchup.
The Cavs' game plan seemed to be little more than seeing if Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace could hold their own in single coverage. Howard's numbers were ridiculous against the Cavaliers: 26 points per game, 13 rebounds and 65 percent shooting from the field.
What's more, Howard had more assists against the Cavaliers than he had turnovers. That should have started being a red flag around Game 2 or 3. Howard had almost twice as many turnovers as assists in the regular season.
But the Cavaliers never double-teamed him aggressively or took some gambles with unorthodox rotations with the hope of turning it over. Never once did the Cavaliers try to scramble the defense or make it chaotic.
Instead, one of the lasting visions of the Magic-Cleveland series is Howard catching the ball in isolation, then sizing up a defensive scheme that pretty much left everything as is. You've got to believe Lakers coach Phil Jackson is going to make Howard more of a decision-maker than he was against Cleveland.
And if Howard's got to make some decisions more quickly than he would like, all the better.
This might be Pau Gasol's series.
It's tough to find a player on the Magic roster capable of handling Gasol in the low post on a consistent basis. Of course, that goes both ways with Gasol likely having some difficulty matching up with Orlando (specifically Rashard Lewis or Turkoglu).
But Jackson has other options with those players, such as Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom or even Kobe Bryant at times. But what answer does Orlando have for Gasol? He is going to have an advantage against any Magic player guarding him, no matter who it is.
Kobe Bryant is always going to be Issue No. 1 for Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. But Gasol is Issue 1A in this series.
Who is better among Lamar Odom, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis?
Three intriguing and somewhat similar players. They've all got size and skill and prefer playing on the perimeter instead of inside. Turkoglu and Odom are better playmakers than Lewis, but Lewis is probably the best shooter among the three.
Any one of them can be a factor on any given night, but they can all float through a game here and there without a peep. Odom isn't going to get the opportunities that Turkoglu and Lewis are, but it's going to be interesting to see which of those players performs best on the Finals stage.
What an opportunity for Andrew Bynum.
He'll get first crack at Howard each and every game. If Bynum really does want to eventually become an elite center, what a perfect place to start.
If Bynum has watched the playoffs, he clearly knows by now that the Celtics' Kendrick Perkins had success against Howard by pushing him a step or two beyond his comfort zone in the low post.
Perkins had a combination of size and foot speed that neither Zydrunas Ilgauskas nor Anderson Varejao (or Ben Wallace or Joe Smith, for that matter) had. Bynum's got the tools to have the same kind of success against Howard that Perkins did. Or does he?
The other thing is that Bynum is likely to get some touches in the low post, if for no other reason than to keep Howard busy at that end. Bynum is far from a finished product, but he's already got more of a back-to-the-basket game than any other centers Howard has gone up against in the postseason: Samuel Dalembert, Perkins or Ilgauskas.
In other words, Howard is going to have a tougher defensive assignment than he's had so far in the postseason.
We'll probably see more Jordan Farmar and less Derek Fisher.
Courtney Lee being the reason. Farmar played 20-plus minutes per game against the Rockets, in large part because they had Aaron Brooks, a smallish, quick-ish guard that Fisher couldn't handle.
Against Chauncey Billups and the Nuggets, Fisher played 28 minutes per game, and Farmar played fewer than 10 per. But Lee is more like Brooks than Billups is, so it's likely going to be more Farmar than Fisher.