Six reasons that cement Finals pick
Free throws, Jameer Nelson: More reasons the Lakers are the call to win the NBA title
Originally Published: June 3, 2009By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesJameer Nelson could have another reunion with Trevor Ariza. Would it make a difference?We've talked about a couple of different angles to the NBA Finals during the past few days, but we have yet to address the most important one -- who I think will win and why. For those who haven't checked out our experts' predictions, I've taken the Lakers in six; nine of ESPN.com's 10 NBA correspondents also picked Los Angeles. Of course, we're the same geniuses who unanimously picked Cleveland over Orlando, so take our predictions with a grain of salt. Either way, I expect the Finals to be competitive and home-court advantage to be a relatively small factor. L.A. had the best road record in the league during the regular season, and Orlando's home-road splits during the past two seasons have been as small as any other team's, so I won't be surprised if the road team wins three or four games. I'm guessing Orlando would have to win twice in L.A. to take the crown, and L.A. would have to win at least once and possibly twice in Orlando. But at the end, I do expect the Lakers to hold up the trophy. Let's look at a few reasons why: • Dwight Howard will regress to the mean from the line. Howard shot 59.4 percent from the stripe during the regular season. He's a 60.1 percent shooter for his career and made 61.1 percent of his attempts during the first two rounds of the playoffs. Any direction you come at it, he's basically a 60 percent free-throw shooter. But in the upset of Cleveland, he shot 70.1 percent, making 47 of 67 from the stripe. That was huge in particular during Game 4, which the Magic won in overtime in part because Howard made 7 of 9 free-throw shots. But such a phenomenon is unlikely to continue in the Finals. We have a tendency to look at short hot streaks from the line and think a player has improved, when often it's just because of random chance. Take Shaquille O'Neal, for instance. About 20 different times during his career, he has had stretches when he has shot free throws somewhat competently, and people have written stories along the lines of "Shaq's making his free throws! This changes everything!" In retrospect, it's easy to see those were just random variations. The same applies to Howard. I don't think he suddenly improved his free-throw shooting before the conference finals. And if so, we can expect him to regress to his usual charity-stripe performance during the Finals.