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NBA Finals - Game 1 recap

L.A. Lakers 100, Orlando 75 -- Lakers lead series, 1-0
Because the Los Angeles Lakers needed 13 games to win the Western Conference title, a 65-win team during the regular season ran on fumes for extended stretches of the NBA Playoffs. Given five off days before the start of the NBA Finals, a renewed and revived roster looked the part of a world champion, with its superstar leading the charge.
While the Orlando Magic suffered from rust, the Lakers and Kobe Bryant profited from rest in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. With Kobe scoring 36 of his game-high 40 points in the first three quarters, the Lakers cruised to an 82-58 lead and never looked back. After two riveting conference finals series, the Lakers and Magic did not keep a national television audience interested for very long. With Phil Jackson's club using its experience on Thursday, and Stan Van Gundy's group being ambushed by stage fright, the promise of a 48-minute thriller turned into a 33-minute clunker. With 15 minutes left at Staples Center, the home team had safely tucked this tilt into the win column, delighting a crowd that revels in displays of substantial superiority.

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They love to live large and win big in the City of Angels, and so it was that after the Lakers labored past Houston in seven games and then dug in for six slugfests against Denver, an extended break made the Lake Show a great show against Orlando. For one thing, the purple and gold's familiarity with the spotlight of the Finals clearly showed in this contest, as the Magic slogged through their sets and stayed bolted to the floor, while the Lakers did all the running, jumping and rotating that are part of winning basketball. L.A.'s considerable energy and intense focus translated into vastly better rebounding numbers (55-41), shooting percentages (46 to 30 percent), and assist totals (18-10) for the home team. While Kobe was certainly the game's MVP, Lamar Odom rated a close second for the Lakers. With his long, rangy frame and fresh, springy legs, Odom snapped down 14 rebounds to cement his team's edge on the glass, while also shutting down Orlando sniper Hedo Turkoglu, who finished with just 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Odom represented the perfect blend (or not-so-perfect if you're a Magic fan) of high intensity and matchup difficulty that so thoroughly perplexed Orlando in Game 1. Against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, the Magic's 3-point bombers could release shots with a clean shooting hand over the top of smaller Cavalier defenders, but against the likes of Odom, Pau Gasol (16 points, 8 boards), and even Luke Walton (9 points in a solid supporting role), Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis (only 2-of-10 from the field) never found a comfortable place on the floor.
There's only so much to be said after a non-competitive game such as this one. In Game 2--which has been made even more significant and intriguing as a result of this lid-lifting Laker laugher--rust and stage fright will no longer be factors. The Magic will have two off days before tip-off on Sunday (8 p.m. Eastern, ABC), so Van Gundy and Company will be able to prepare. The question is this: "How much confidence and wisdom will Orlando bring to battle against a veteran outfit led by a snarling, relentless, and eminently gifted Kobe, who has regained his legs after a grueling run through the Western Conference?" The Magic need to provide a very strong answer, because even if they improve a great deal from Game 1, the Eastern Conference champions will have to attain more than just a moral victory, and if Dwight Howard and friends can't radically reshape their mindset in Game 2, an L.A. team that looks like the best team in basketball will officially secure that distinction in a fairly short period of time.


By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer

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