Orlando's Mickael Pietrus says he won't wear his Kobe Bryant-endorsed shoes in the NBA Finals that begin tonight in Los Angeles. That's cool, because in a more general sense the Magic never has walked in Kobe's shoes anyway.
Bryant, the pride of Lower Merion High, has won three championships, but none without Shaquille O'Neal. He has said that's not necessarily a motivational factor, but everyone else seems to think it's significant.
This has the look and the feel of becoming Kobe's moment. The Lakers will have their hands full trying to contend with Orlando center Dwight Howard and the Magic's parade of three-pointers, but the Magic figures to have an even more difficult time dealing with the best closer in the game. LAKERS IN 6.
If Jameer Nelson were in midseason form, I would like the Magic. He abused the Lakers in both Magic wins against them this season, scoring 55 points. No way to know what, if anything, Nelson is going to be able to give his team. Even with that, the Magic's three-point shooting and Dwight Howard give them a chance at the upset. Still, the Lakers' big, athletic frontcourt matches up much better with Howard than Cleveland's plodding group did. The Lakers do have some holes, but you know Kobe Bryant wants this one after losing in his last two NBA Finals appearances. LAKERS IN 7.
This is the year Kobe Bryant gets it done. The Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard pose a formidable threat, but the Lakers have a slight edge overall, and a big edge in experience. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should be able to slow Howard, who has a propensity for foul trouble, while Trevor Ariza can contain Hedo Turkoglu. Orlando has no defensive answer for Bryant. LAKERS IN 6
Man, would this series be really interesting if Jameer Nelson were at full strength. Oh, wait a minute, it's going to be really interesting anyway. The Magic did beat the Lakers in both meetings this year, but does that really matter come Finals time? I don't think so.
The Magic is terrific at bombing beyond the arc, but you know what they say about living by the jump shot. Dwight Howard will eat Andrew Bynum for lunch in each and every game, but that still won't be enough. If the debate of who is the best between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James needs a final argument, Kobe will provide it by leading the Lakers to another title. This time, without Shaq. It will Kobe's and all Kobe's. With a little help from Pau Gasol and Co. LAKERS IN 7