Beating the Orlando Magic is not going to be a cakewalk for the Lakers. Just ask LeBron James. So how can Kobe Bryant and company overcome Dwight Howard and Orlando? Bryant has to know when to be a facilitator and when to be a scoring machine. There isn’t a team in the league that Bryant can’t score 40 on. But that can make a player think he’s invincible.
After the Lakers’ Game 6 win over Denver, Nuggets coach George Karl paid Bryant the ultimate compliment after he exploded for several baskets late in the second quarter. “No one in basketball could’ve covered him,” Karl said. “He made about four shots in the stretch that I think Jesus would have had trouble covering him.”
The high praise not withstanding, Bryant can’t let that go to his head. He needs to let his teammates know he has confidence in them. It took a while for Lamar Odom to find his groove against Denver. Odom needs to be involved early and often. He needs to force the Magic to even double-team him if need be. Pau Gasol’s offense has also come and gone at times. A concerted effort from Gasol and Odom could get Howard into early foul trouble. If Gasol and Odom can get off early, everyone else–Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton, Derek Fish- er, etc.–will all fall into line.
Defensively, it could be a challenge for the Lakers. The plan is for Andrew Bynum to guard Howard and Ariza to take Hedo Turkoglu. A big headache could be Rashard Lewis, who led the league in three-pointers made. Gasol will start the season on him. But the task, at least on paper, will be simple for the Lakers: Stay with the shooters. The Magic destroyed the Cavaliers on the perimeter. As important as the shooting is, we all know the Lakers have to stop Howard.
“We have lengthy defenders to deal with Turkoglu and Lewis,” Phil Jackson told the L.A. Times. “But I don’t know who can guard this big kid if he’s as physical as he is.” All of this starts with Bryant. He can be a lockdown defender and a terror in the passing lanes when he wants to. If he wants to move up to that next level–the one that includes the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, etc.– he has to become the ultimate all-round threat.