RESERVATIONS FOR JUNE: With Dwight Howard, left, and the Orlando Magic having started the postseason with eight consecutive wins, itâ€™s not a stretch to imagine them in a NBA Finals rematch with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. (Jeff Lewis for Sentinel)
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
It’s the elephant in the room nobody has noticed yet but it’s slowly starting to get attention.
Somewhere between the Lakers’ stealing the soul of the Utah Jazz and Cleveland making Rajon Rondo look like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, it got more and more obvious that the NBA Finals could very well be a rematch.
As the Lakers prepare to face a dangerous, but beatable Phoenix Suns team starting Monday, it’s not too soon to anticipate a Finals showdown with…the Orlando Magic?
Yes, that same team that needed one of the greatest team shooting games in NBA playoff history to avoid being swept in last year’s Finals is now the beast of the East after starting the postseason 8-0.
They made the Charlotte Bobcats look like kittens in the first round and thrashed a talented but overrated Atlanta Hawks team that internally combusted in front of our eyes.
Meanwhile the Lakers have rediscovered their mojo and are starting to resemble the team that dominated the Magic in the Finals. They dominated the post and the bench finally resembled something close to last year’s Bench Mob.
Kobe Bryant looks as healthy as he’s been all season, having averaged 32 points while shooting over 52 percent. It’s no surprise that as the team has played their best stretch of games in months, their leader has done the same.
Just like Houston and Denver last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder woke up a sleeping giant and the Jazz saw evidence of this firsthand. Not even Carlos Boozer’s SUV was safe as the team bus backed into it leaving after Game 4.
There’s no reason not to speculate about a Finals rematch. Orlando’s playing like the best team of the postseason and the Lakers are right up there with them.
The Magic’s resurgence has been led by the addition of Vince Carter and a healthy Jameer Nelson, who played at less than full strength during the Finals last year. Carter’s transformation from a high-flyer to a jump-shooting forward with a quick first step gives Orlando the slasher it never had last year.
As for Nelson, just ask Boston or Phoenix how helpful it is to have an point guard steering a machine. When healthy, he’s a matchup nightmare that can find the open man or set-up Dwight Howard inside for easy buckets.
There’s also the ex-factor in Matt Barnes, the former UCLA forward who aggravated Bryant in the last meeting in Orlando.
Both teams split their series this year, with the home team winning each contest. That’s good news for the Magic who hold home court advantage against the Lakers should they meet.
Of course, it doesn’t matter to the Lakers, who won two of three at Orlando last year, including the title-clinching win in Game 5.
The Lakers’ road back to the Finals got easier when Dallas and Denver were booted in the first round. With Phoenix coming up, it looks a whole lot easier on paper after they won three out of four meetings during the regular season.
It’s the first meeting since 2007 when Phoenix dispatched them easily and with Bryant’s memory as sharp as an elephant, there’s no telling how well he could play with that chip on his shoulder.
Boston and Cleveland will keep beating each other up in their series and whoever survives will not intimidate Orlando. It won’t be a sweep this time around for the Magic but they’ve proven they can beat both teams in a physical, grind-it-out fashion.
There’s no guarantee this could happen. Whoever survives that Boston-Cleveland series has aces up their sleeves in Paul Pierce rediscovering his shooting touch or LeBron James deciding to go into kill-or-be-killed mode.
Just don’t be surprised if come next month, the NBA Finals opens with a familiar ring to it from last year. Lakers-Magic Part II? Nobody could see it coming a few weeks ago but right now, it’s something that deserves to be considered.