It's just that one team in the 2009 Finals has considerably more motivation to win, considerably more at stake, and is much more emotionally involved. And that's not going to change.
It's why the Los Angeles Lakers can't lose this series. It's why we picked the Lakers in five before it even began.
Orlando's Point Guard Mess
Kobe's Link to Magic Front Office
Pietrus Done With Kobe-LBJ Talk
Video: Mariotti and Blackistone on Finals
As hard as the Orlando Magic keep trying to convince themselves and everyone else otherwise, they ARE thrilled to just be here. They have had a great season, regardless of the outcome at the Finals. It was much the same in 1995 when they reached the Finals for the first time in franchise history – then were swept by Houston.
The Lakers, conversely, are so focused that it hurts watching them grit their teeth. Anything short of a championship will be deemed a failure. They reached the Finals and lost in two of the previous five years. Kobe Bryant is way too proud to let that happen again.
It's why this matchup will seem so lopsided. So here are the Five Questions going into Game 2:
1. Can the Magic do anything to slow down Kobe Bryant?
Nope. Not happening. Starter Courtney Lee looks like a mosquito pestering Bryant. He has neither the physical tools, nor the experience, to be anything more than a slight inconvenience for the Lakers superstar.
Magic defensive stopper Mickael Pietrus is delightful with his mannerisms, but he is no Bruce Bowen. "What am I going to do? What do I say? `Stop, Kobe, please stop,''' Pietrus said before the series began. "He's a great player. You don't stop him.''
Although the Magic view him as a their stopper, Pietrus only seemed to inflame LeBron James, who averaged 38 points in the previous round. With Kobe having a much better supporting cast then James, Pietrus won't get as much help as he did in the last round.
Magic's best bet is to pray that Kobe has a bad shooting night.
2. How will Dwight Howard respond to his awful Game 1?
All season long, Howard rebounded well after a bad game, and there's no reason to suggest that will change. He doesn't do bad back-to-backs. He'll come out strong and well focused. He'll probably have 10 offensive rebounds, converting many of them into baskets.
His problem, though, will be foul trouble. If Howard comes out as hyped as expected, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom might egg him into some silly fouls. And if that happens, the Magic are toast. They need him to play 40 minutes. They need at least a 20-20. They need him defensively. They need Superman.
The issue is whether everyone else goes along for the ride.
3. What do the Magic do with Jameer Nelson?
They made a mistake by even letting him play in the first game. We tried to tell Stan Van Gundy that before the series began, but he didn't listen.
First of all, he's not Chris Paul or even Steve Nash. It was unreasonable to think he would be anywhere close to his All-Star form after four months of inactivity. So why was it worth messing up the good chemistry and playing rotation that the Magic had developed? It wasn't.
Anthony Johnson already had been to the NBA Finals twice, and he would have done just fine as the backup again to Rafer Alston. Now that Nelson is playing the role, the Magic must hope that Nelson can knock off the rust quickly.
Still a strange, strange decision on the Magic's part.
4. Can the Lakers sustain the kind of focus and intensity they had in Game 1?
Probably not through the entire series. We'll give them one game to slack off, but it probably won't be until the series moves to Orlando.
Teammates are afraid of Kobe Bryant, and what he might do if they don't maintain the kind of intensity he wants from everyone. And no one wants to be embarrassed on this stage.
Gasol and Odom, through their careers, have known to let their minds wander, but Kobe just won't allow it here. There's too much at stake. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher have so much experience in these big games that they dwarf the Magic.
5. What happens if center Andrew Bynum actually starts playing up to his vast potential?
Everyone got excited that Bynum had nine points and nine rebounds in Game 1 because it was way better than he has played in the post season. Yet he only managed 22 minutes before foul trouble took him out of the game.
He is a very talented player who has struggled at times to carve his niche in this league. If he decides now is the time to really show his worth, it will spell trouble for the Magic. Bynum is big enough, strong and athletic enough to give Dwight Howard a good match.
He's more talented than Kendrick Perkins, who did a great job against Howard in the conference semifinal, and he has all the physical tools to become an All-Star. The Magic don't need to awaken him in this series.