Dwight Howard - Icon Sports MediaI have finally gotten over my disappointment in the Cavaliers lost to Orlando. It took a few days, but it is time for me to eat a little crow. Yes, I picked the Cavaliers to win it all this year. I can’t believe I did not see through the fog. Why did I believe the Cavaliers would finally win a championship? Well, they did win 66 games and they only lost two games at home?. I really got pulled in when they swept Detroit and Atlanta. On second thought, I had every conceivable right to believe in my prediction.

That is until Orlando came along and smacked them upside the head. I was so enamored with the King James locomotive that I ignored what the Magic was doing to get rid of a stubborn Philadelphia team and then go into Boston Garden and defeat the Celtics in a Game 7.

The Magic put on a devastating show with ball movement and stellar shooting. Their ability to make big shots from long range and feed Dwight Howard, the most dominant interior performer during these playoffs, has me wondering if this journey can continue against the deep Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers, unlike Cleveland, struggled at times in the early rounds and I surmise that is why they are still around. I for one believe adversity in the early rounds bring focus and desperation, which when you are as talented as the Lakers becomes a good thing.

The Rockets and the Nuggets were definitely capable of beating the Lakers, but injuries to Yao Ming and mental meltdowns by Denver allowed the Lakers to seize the opportunity like a shark.

Now we are here. This is what we have waited for, well halfway at least... But let me tell you something you might already know: This will be a great series and I am sure most of the fans who watched the Magic win the East might tend to agree that the right team will face the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals.

The Lakers and the Magic are extremely versatile and can summon some good players off the bench, but five things must happen for either team to win this series.

KEYS FOR THE LAKERS

Keep Dwight Howard in foul trouble

The Lakers understand that Howard will challenge any foray to the basket. They have the master at that in Kobe Bryant. Watch Bryant, Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza go at the body of Howard early in games to force the officials to make a call.

Defend Howard in single coverage with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol

If the Lakers pull this off and Howard does not go for 30 and get every player in a Lakers jersey in foul trouble, L.A. will win this series in quick fashion. The Magic either need the Lakers to double to free up shooters or Howard has huge games to offset the lack of consistent three-point opportunities.

Have great offensive efficiency and wear down the Magic’s defense

The Lakers spread the ball around and so the Magic are hoping the Lakers force-feed Kobe so they can load up defensively.  If the Lakers stay away from just relying on Kobe and use their great ball cuts and screens within the triangle offense, it will be difficult for Orlando to defend consistently.

Hope Kobe will seize the opportunity he missed last year

How many more times can Kobe get to the Finals and not get that elusive championship without Shaquille O’Neal? He will be focused and relentless and if the Magic fail to control him, especially in the fourth quarter, just forget about it.

Dominate the sidelines with Phil Jackson

Stan Van Gundy was huge with his coaching decisions during the Cavaliers series. Recognizing Ben Wallace was guarding Rashard Lewis was huge in Game 4 and basically won the series, but he better come with everything in this series against Jackson and that veteran coaching staff. Jackson is just as hungry as Kobe. This could be his 10th championship and it will if Van Gundy falls prey to his mental messages during this series.

KEYS FOR THE MAGIC

Force the Lakers to double-team Howard

This will be the big question all series long. Can Dwight Howard dominate consistently if the Lakers elect to stay at home on the Magic shooters? If the Lakers are forced to double they will be in serious trouble if the Magic shoot the ball like they did in the Cavalier series.

Keep Andrew Bynum on the bench

Rashard Lewis will be the key because Pau Gasol has no choice but to guard him. This will be the focal point early in most games running Gasol off screens and involving him in pick-and-pop plays. If he can’t guard Lewis, then he will be forced to defend Howard and keep Bynum on the bench, thus unleashing a possible double-team and freeing up the Magic three-point shooters.

Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee defend Kobe and still are offensively productive

This is what Van Gundy is praying for. He knows they will exert great effort on defense, but he also needs them to score consistently to have a chance to win this series. If both players can stay within 15 total points of Kobe combined, this series will become very interesting.

Jameer Nelson adds to a confident backcourt

This is a long shot, but we can’t ignore it. Nelson had tremendous success against the Lakers this season so although tired and not in game shape, he will be extremely confident and just him dressing and sitting on the bench could be a huge psychological boost for the Magic.

Maintain confidence they have had in the last few rounds

The Magic are soaring and have a swagger that is rightly deserved.  Confidence can carry a team in games where they don’t play particularly well. The Magic are that team. They have beaten the defending champion and the team with the best record.

PREDICTION:

My prediction is Orlando in six. I have gone against them in every round. I will not do it again. I believe they are playing the best basketball of the two teams and if Dwight Howard continues to dominate and stay out of foul trouble, I don’t see the Lakers having enough to withstand his dominance in the paint.