When the NBA Finals begin tonight (Thursday) in Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic will be facing a decidedly more potent opponent than they defeated to reach this point.

The Lakers are the most talented and balanced team in basketball, a stark contrast to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who the Magic dismissed four games to two in their previous series. Dealing with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Andrew Bynum and sharpshooter Sasha Vujacic will be a far greater challenge than defending a stagnant, one-dimensional Cavaliers attack that proved to be little more than LeBron James and a bunch of not-ready-for-primetime players.

Although the Magic had obvious offensive matchup advantages against the Cavaliers, particularly on the front-line, where Dwight Howard and the versatile tandem of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis abused the Cavaliers, on the other end of the court they were afforded the benefit of not having to worry about defending multiple threats and could just focus on James.

As a result, the Magic were able to adeptly transition into their fast break and half court offenses, repeatedly creating favorable mismatches. But the Lakers are a different animal that the Magic acknowledge will be difficult to tame, especially Bryant.

“I don’t know that there’s too many people that are going to lock him up,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “I think what you gotta do is take away the things you think you can take away.

“The other thing I think you can get really carried away with,” continued Van Gundy “[is that] it’s far from all about Kobe. They’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot the ball. Pau Gasol, to me, is playing at a very high level. I have always had unbelievable respect for Lamar Odom. I think he’s a top 30 player in this league. “They put a lot of shooting around those guys and their offensive rebounding has been phenomenal…We will have to do a great job on the glass in this series to have a chance.” As Van Gundy noted, if they are going to win the title, the Magic must be consistently proficient in the areas of rebounding and defense, but it is unlikely that they will be over the course of this best-of seven pairing. The Lakers have too much skill and experience.