True or false? Lakers-Magic questions

Updated: June 2, 2009, 4:21 PM ET
ESPN.com

Kobe Bryant, Dwight HowardFernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhich NBA superstar is the better player right now -- Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard?
We asked ESPN.com's NBA writers to weigh in on the NBA Finals between the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers, which kicks off Thursday (ABC, ESPN Radio, 9 p.m. ET).

1. True or false? Rafer Alston is a better point guard right now than Derek Fisher.

Henry Abbott, ESPN.com TrueHoop: True.

Faster, more creative and younger is probably close enough.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: True.

Alston had a 26-point game versus Cleveland. I don't see Fish going off like that these days.

Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: True.

Alston's 3-point shooting was critical in Orlando's victory over Cleveland. Yes, he has been up and down, but Fisher, for the most part, has been down.

Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine: False.

"Skip" is a better spot-up shooter. Right now. Fisher is still the better decision-maker, a point guard's most important job.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: True.

Fisher has the experience and the rings, but he has struggled in the playoffs and looks as though he's heading toward the end of his career. Alston hasn't been much better, but between the two, I would take Alston.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: True.

The race not to be the guy who costs his team the title is a close one, but Alston had a better regular season than Fisher and a better playoffs, and at this point in their respective careers, he's the better defender.

Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: True.

But this is like picking between buying General Motors or Chrysler stock. It is painful to watch either of them shoot 3s, and it is perplexing to witness Alston's variation of the knuckleball when he releases shots inside after his "Skip to My Lou" drives. But in these playoffs, Alston has been on top of his game more than Fish.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: True ...

... even though we all know Alston can't hurt the Lakers as Jameer Nelson does. The one disclaimer here is that Fish can close the gap with a few big 3s or if he's allowed to play physical.


2. True or false? Hedo Turkoglu is a better small forward right now than Trevor Ariza.

Abbott: True.

But more than once this series, Ariza will make plays that will make me look foolish for saying so.

Adande: True.

For proof, see who gets the ball in his hands more during crunch time.

Broussard: True.

This question isn't even fair. Turkoglu can hurt an opponent from just about anywhere on the court in just about any way.

Bucher: True.

Turkoglu is also his team's MVP.

Ford: False.

Turkoglu has had a better career and a better season, but Ariza is shooting the basketball better and has been a game-changer on the defensive end of the ball. Overall, Turkoglu's the better player. Right now, though? It's Ariza.

Hollinger: False.

He's a better fit for what the Magic do, which is why Orlando traded Ariza but made Turkoglu the go-to guy for all its pick-and-roll schemes. But Ariza has outranked Turkoglu in player efficiency rating two of the past three seasons, plays better D and is quietly shooting 50 percent on 3s in the playoffs.

Sheridan: True.

Turkoglu is such an integral fourth-quarter initiator/finisher for the Magic, their designated assassin on late-game final-shot plays. Ariza was a steal for the Lakers when they fleeced Otis Smith in the Brian Cook trade, but Turkoglu trumps him in the motivation department because he's playing to establish his free-agent market value.

Stein: True.

L.A.'s stealing Ariza from the Magic is one of the better storylines getting no play, but I am a long-standing Hedo-nist. It's a tough call with all the talent there, but I've always thought that Turkoglu is Orlando's most important player. Especially now with Nelson out.


3. True or false? Rashard Lewis is a better power forward right now than Pau Gasol.

Abbott: False.

Every time Gasol gets the ball, he's efficient with it.

Adande: False.

Gasol can do more things. He's a better passer and more creative inside scorer, and he even has played D lately.

Broussard: False.

Gasol is better than Lewis. Lewis is really a small forward, and Orlando can get away with his poor rebounding because it has Dwight Howard. His wicked shooting ability makes him a nightmare matchup for many 4s, but Gasol's a more efficient scorer and a much better rebounder.

Bucher: False.

Lewis is the better ball handler and 3-point shooter. Gasol takes every other category.

Ford: False.

Lewis is playing great, but Gasol should be able to play up the mismatch versus whoever guards him, Lewis or Howard. I know that's all in theory. (Gasol was great in regular-season matchups.)

Hollinger: False

Gasol is one of the most underrated players in the league, a skilled, quick 7-footer who is wrongly denigrated for not posting his 19-10-4 (points, rebounds and assists) in a sufficiently macho fashion. Lewis is good, too, but he's not in Gasol's league.

Sheridan: False. Sort of, because Gasol will move over to center quite a bit in this series if Andrew Bynum is either in foul trouble or getting abused in single coverage against Howard. So Gasol gets the nod on versatility, plus his advantage in low-post scoring prowess. But if Lewis averages 20 points per game and shoots 50 percent, Orlando's chances of winning a title will go way up.

Stein: False.

Gasol impacts the game in more ways than Lewis. And I'm quite sure that the Lakers will attack Lewis and make him work at the other end, which is how you take him out of his game, and which is something Cleveland's punchless bigs couldn't do.


4. True or false? Mickael Pietrus is a better role player right now than Lamar Odom.

Abbott: False.

Although it depends on how much candy Odom had for breakfast.

Adande: True.

Because you know exactly what he's going to do every night: play good defense and hit the corner 3.

Broussard: False.

This one is close, because Pietrus was great against Cleveland. He's a guy the Magic can feel good about putting on Kobe. But without the wide-open looks from 3 that he got against Cleveland, his offense is limited. When Odom's on top of his game, which admittedly isn't every night, he gives L.A. another All-Star.

Bucher: False.

Ariza is a better role player than Odom, but Pietrus isn't.

Ford: False.

Pietrus was red-hot against the Cavs, both offensively and defensively. However, Odom's versatility combined with his experience playing in the Finals makes him the best role player in the series.

Hollinger: True.

Pietrus has been a reliable game-changer off the bench in the postseason with his ability to defend top scorers, hit 3s and score at the basket. Odom has had his moments but hasn't made the same regular impact.

Sheridan: False.

Odom will play starter's minutes and spend a lot of time defending Lewis, and he has the luxury of expending most of his energy on the defensive end. Whatever points he can produce in the flow of the triangle will be gravy.

Stein: False.

Can't quite go there after one great series for Pietrus. The Candy Man, like Gasol, will go at Lewis and Turkoglu in a way that the Cavs never attacked them, and he has the mobility to stay with those two out on the perimeter defensively.


5. True or false? Dwight Howard is a better player right now than Kobe Bryant.

Abbott: False.

But it's closer than you think.

Adande: False.

In part, a function of position. You never hear Kobe complaining about touches, mostly because he has the ball so much.

Broussard: False.

Again, this is fairly close, especially with Howard hitting a decent number of his free throws. But Kobe, especially with home-court advantage in this series, has to get the nod.

Bucher: False.

When Howard beats double-teams, makes game winners and orchestrates his team's offense, this will become a relevant question.

Ford: Pass.

The two dominate the game in such different ways. I was tempted to say false because Kobe is Kobe, but the truth is that Howard just put together a better playoff series than the reigning MVP. If he does it again, the Magic will win the series.

Hollinger: False.

And I would say false if you were to ask the opposite question, too. Truth is, they're almost perfectly equal at this point in their careers. They've played to a draw on PER during the past two seasons, and both have had huge moments in the playoffs. Howard is the more dominant defender, while Kobe is the better weapon down the stretch.

Sheridan: False.

Less than a month ago, Kendrick Perkins made Howard seem rather mortal. Yes, he shot 70 percent on free throws versus the Cavs, but the NBA Finals bring a whole new level of pressure. Kobe is a superstud.

Stein: False.

Howard has to do it on this stage before we believe that, unfair as it might seem after he absolutely disassembled LeBron's Cavs with never-before-seen clutch and dominance.


6. True or false? Stan Van Gundy is a better coach right now than Phil Jackson.

Abbott: True.

Players not known to be great defenders elsewhere comprising the best defense in the NBA? Every Magic player playing hard every play? Starting a rookie and a midseason transplant point guard without missing a beat? An efficient offense starring offensively challenged Howard? In terms of straight basketball, Van Gundy's coaching could be the story of the playoffs.

Adande: False.

Jackson keeps standing tall at the end. And who would make you feel more comfortable if you were to look at the sideline in a close game?

Broussard: False.

Van Gundy has been good, but he had a few miscues against Cleveland (endgame coverage on LeBron in Game 2 and Game 5). Jackson hasn't looked good in his past two Finals (against Detroit in 2004 and Boston in '08), but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bucher: False.

More entertaining, though, for sure.

Ford: False.

Van Gundy is more interesting and animated, and he clearly has proved his coaching chops in this series. But to me, Jackson is the best coach in the league. His ability to balance so many egos as well as the consistency of his teams throughout the years give him the nod.

Hollinger: True.

I thought Van Gundy should have won coach of the year and that the people taking shots at him based on his sideline demeanor were out of their minds. Jackson has a better résumé, but at times this season, I've wondered whether he's still at the top of his game.

Sheridan: False.

Check their career championship totals. Better question: Which is the better nickname: "Big Chief Triangle" (coined by Stan's brother, Jeff) or "Master of Panic" (coined by Shaquille O'Neal)?

Stein: True.

Better in the sense that SVG is more entertaining than Phil these days, which is an achievement in itself, but also because Howard and his coach deserve even more praise than they've generated already after what they did to the LeBrons.


7. True or false? The Magic's offense is better right now than the Lakers'.


Abbott: False.

If Trevor Ariza keeps making 3s, the Lake Show will be a sight to behold. Also, the Lakers got it done against very good Rockets and Nuggets defenses.

Adande: True.

They finally found the ideal combination of inside and outside game.

Broussard: False.

The Magic looked spectacular on offense against Cleveland because of the Cavs' poor matchups. They'll continue to score well against L.A., but L.A. has averaged more points per game and has shot a higher percentage from 3 throughout the playoffs. Plus, the Lakers have the ultimate closer when push comes to shove.

Bucher: False.

The Magic killed Cleveland with one trick, the pick-and-roll. The Lakers utilized an array of weapons to beat Denver.

Ford: False.

The Magic have a lot of weapons -- Howard on the inside, and Lewis, Turkoglu and Pietrus can light it up from outside. But the Lakers have the best scorer in the game in Kobe Bryant, and Gasol, Odom and even Bynum can get it going at any moment.

Hollinger: False.

Orlando's offense is prone to huge fluctuations depending on how well the 3s are fouling and whether Howard is making his foul shots, but the Lakers' attack is consistently excellent. L.A. has go-to scorers inside and out, role players who can knock down shots and the best passing frontcourt in the league.

Sheridan: False.

That offense looked pretty darn good in the closeout Game 6 against the Cavs, but let's not forget how bad it looked during the first quarters of Games 1, 2 and 5 in Cleveland. If the Lakers jump out on them like that three times, they'll be too good an offensive team to let them back in as Cleveland did.

Stein: False.

Orlando's offense consists almost entirely of pick-and-rolls for Turkoglu, occasional post-ups for Howard and a hailstorm of triples. Don't the Magic need to run more stuff for us to call it an offense?


8. True or false? The Magic's defense is better right now than the Lakers'.


Abbott: True.

Howard is the best defender in the NBA, but there's plenty of length and everybody plays hard.

Adande: False.

The Lakers just held the Nuggets, the highest-scoring team in the playoffs, to less than 100 points in three of the past four games.

Broussard: True.

The Magic's defense has been overlooked all season. The Lakers' D looks great on occasion, but it's too on-off.

Bucher: True.

The Magic have an unorthodox defense, but it's clicking right now. Hard to tell where the Lakers are, but they gave up ridiculously easy baskets against Denver.

Ford: True.

The Magic don't look like a great defensive team at first blush, but they've really been brilliant this season. If they can figure out how to slow down Kobe the way they slowed down LeBron, the Magic can pull this one out.

Hollinger: True.
People talk about the 3s, but Orlando got here because it was the best defensive team in the league during the regular season and consistently stifled opponents in the playoffs. L.A.'s defense is inconsistent, though its biggest weakness -- stopping quick guards -- is unlikely to be a problem against Orlando.

Sheridan: False.

The Magic are anchored at that end of the court by having Howard as the last line of defense, but he has been playing timidly from that standpoint out of fear of foul trouble. Pietrus did a nice job on LBJ, but how will he respond when Kobe starts yapping at him?

Stein: True.

If the Lakers lose in the Finals as overwhelming favorites again, it'll surely be because of their infamous lack of defensive consistency and focus.


9. True or false? The Magic are playing better right now than the Lakers.


Abbott: True.

Although it depends what you mean by "right now." The way the Lakers played in Game 6 to eliminate Denver might be the best anybody has played all playoffs long. But they have been up and down. The Magic won an elimination game on the road without Howard in Philly. They were down 3-2 to the defending champs and got the big victory in Boston freaking Garden. Then they made short work of the best team in the NBA.

Adande: False.

Only because the Lakers are coming off their best game of the playoffs.

Broussard: False.

Again, the Magic's "greatness" seems heightened because they benefited from Cleveland's poor matchups. The Lakers strengthened their one major weakness -- lack of toughness -- against Denver.

Bucher: False.

They played a worse team than the Lakers did.

Ford: True.

I think the Magic's dominance of the Cavs has given them tremendous confidence coming into the Finals. The Lakers are riding a bit of momentum as well, but confidence is clearly in the Magic's corner.

Hollinger: False.

I actually didn't think Orlando was playing that well coming into the Cleveland series, though I suppose the same could be said of the Lakers. And L.A. closed with six dominating quarters against Denver, a feat even more impressive than Orlando's closeout of the Cavs.

Sheridan: False.

Both teams are about even from this standpoint. Both have been alternately dominant and vulnerable. Neither has been consistent. I expect that trend to continue in the Finals, which is why I see this one going seven games (with the Lakers winning the finale).

Stein: True.

Impressive as L.A. was in the last two games of the Denver series, let's be clear here. Orlando's belief, swagger and 3-point bombing have been off-the-charts good since the Game 5 crusher against Boston. Can't say it enough.


10. True or false? The Magic can and will beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals.


Abbott: True.

This is not one of those mismatch series you don't have to watch. These are two titans. I picked Orlando in six games simply because it has been more consistent during the past month.

Adande: True and false.

They can beat the Lakers but won't without home-court advantage and Finals experience.

Broussard: False.

The Magic can beat the Lakers, but I believe that the Lakers will win in seven.

Bucher: True.

They can if the same Lakers team that faced Boston shows up for this year's Finals. Will they? A tepid no -- the Finals will be postponed indefinitely if the Lakers fall behind because Kobe will hijack the team bus and hold his teammates hostage until the commissioner revises league rules and allows postseason trades.

Ford: False.

Yes, the Magic can beat the Lakers, and I expect the series to be very competitive. But, false, I believe that the Lakers will win the series in six games.

Hollinger: Half-false.

They absolutely can beat the Lakers, but I don't think they will. I'm picking L.A. to win in six tough games, and based on Orlando's home-road splits the past two seasons, this may be one of those weird series in which the road team wins three or four times.

Sheridan: False.

I'll let Henry Abbott make the argument for true. (He bravely picked Magic in six.) I expect 38 points out of Kobe and 24-12 from Gasol in Game 7, with Superman struggling from the free-throw line that same night.

Stein: False.

Or more like half-false. The Magic certainly can win this series if they rain 3s on L.A. as we saw during the Cleveland series. But I like the Lakers in six because of all the problems they can create to get Orlando scrambling, along with L.A.'s clear edge in big-stage experience. Which will matter.