Commentary

Magic struggling with L.A.'s offense

Originally Published: June 10, 2009
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
Kobe BryantRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesEven in defeat, Kobe and the Lakers put up 100 points on Orlando for the third straight game.

ORLANDO -- The Magic are finally off the Finals schneid, and we can talk all day about the series of improbable events that went into it. From the Magic's shooting a Finals-record 62.5 percent and a ridiculous 70 percent on 2-pointers to Dwight Howard's outshooting Kobe Bryant at the free throw line to a series of fortunate plays such as the blatant double-dribble Mickael Pietrus got away with on a first-half fast break, it was Orlando's night.

But in one important respect, Tuesday night was very much business as usual for Orlando and L.A., and that's a bad omen for the Magic.

Orlando's record shooting obscured an equally important detail: The Magic barely won, because the Lakers themselves hit a not-so-shabby 51.3 percent from the field. The Lakers shot well in the first two games, too, at 46 percent, so it seems we can officially call this a trend: Orlando's defense is having a lot of trouble with L.A.'s offense.

In some ways, this matchup is the battle of the immovable object versus the unstoppable force. Orlando led the league in defensive efficiency this season and boasts the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard. Some fans and media haven't fully accepted that this is the league's best defensive team, focusing on its lack of overwhelming physicality (not to mention the lack of strutting and preening -- haven't the Magic been watching their KG videos?). But Orlando was incredibly effective all season, and has been again in the playoffs, ranking second in playoff defensive efficiency.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were the league's third-most efficient offense in the regular season, and the best among the league's top contenders -- Phoenix and Portland were first and second, but neither of those teams lasted beyond the first round of the playoffs.

In the regular season the Lakers averaged 109.8 points per 100 possessions, and the Magic gave up 98.9 -- a nearly 11-point gap in productivity. Clearly, a big determinant of who will win this series will be whether L.A.'s efficiency number is closer to the 109.8 or the 98.9.

And on that count, this series remains the Lakers in a rout. If anything, Tuesday night cemented their advantage. L.A. scored 104 points in an unusually slow-paced game (it's tough to get much transition going when both teams are taking the ball out of the net), resulting in a 113.8 offensive efficiency mark. That was the Lakers' best output of the series, even better than the 110.0 from Game 1 or the 102.7 from Game 2.