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NBA Finals Prediction

Results of 10,000 simulations of the Lakers vs. Magic
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
May 31st, 2009

Kobe Bryant gets his fourth overall and his first "Shaqless" ring as the Lakers take out the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic en route to the franchise's 15th NBA title. We simulated the 2009 NBA Finals between LA and Orlando 10,000 times in order to determine the likelihood of either team winning it all. After losing to the Boston Celtics in six games last season (as we predicted), the Lakers return to the Finals and this time come out on top winning the series 61.7% of the time. The most common occurrence is a six game series, where Los Angeles wins it all in its return home after three games in Orlando.

Front-court depth and perimeter defense are the keys to the Lakers' victory. During the regular season, Los Angeles was third in the league in opponent three-point percentage (34.5%) and in offensive rebounding percentage (29.4%). With Andrew Bynum healthy and increased defensive intensity from Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher and others, the Lakers have been even tougher on opponents in the playoffs, allowing teams to hit just 31.3% of their threes and just 42.9% of their shots overall. Dwight Howard is clearly the best rebounder in the series, but the Lakers have great rebounders at every position but point guard, while the Magic tend to forsake offensive rebounding opportunities for open perimeter shots. Maximizing offensive touches with second chance points and limiting turnovers as well as utilizing the team's length to impact the Magic's outside shooting will earn the Lakers the victory.

As is evident below, we had to make some assumptions regarding playoff rosters. Despite recent rumors, we do not expect Orlando's Jameer Nelson to come back for the Finals and otherwise believe that the rosters, depth charts and playing time for both teams will be similar to the conference finals. That being said, Nelson would not change the outcome much. His presence in a platoon with Rafer Alston could improve the Magic's chances of winning the series from 38.3% to 41.1% where the most likely outcome is still a six game series won by LA.

What follows is an example NBA Finals based on our most common result. It includes boxscores, play-by-play, stats and a summary for each game in the series. Click on the links after each recap to see the entire breakdown of the game.

NBA Finals Game 1
Orlando 97 @ Los Angeles 106 - Down five to start the fourth quarter, Derek Fisher nails a three on the first Lakers' possession to starts a 30-16 run. Fisher then seals the game with two free-throws in the last minute that keep the Magic from finalizing a late comeback. The veteran point guard finishes with 13 points and four assists, despite entering the fourth quarter shooting just 1-of-5. Not too surprisingly, Kobe Bryant leads all scorers with 29 points on 10-of-22 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. A defensive struggle with much of the scoring on free-throws and threes, neither team shoots exceptionally from the field. The Magic connect on just 43.0% of their shots and LA makes 42.6% of its attempts.

Boxscore with play-by-play >>

NBA Finals Game 2
Orlando 98 @ Los Angeles 99 - Game One had a great fourth quarter with an anti-climatic ending. Game Two has the great fourth quarter with a final two minutes that is even better. After trailing entering the final period again, this time by nine, the Lakers take their first lead in over twelve minutes on a Pau Gasol ten-foot turnaround jumper with 1:54 remaining in the game that puts LA ahead 93-92. Derek Fisher, the hero in the first game, steals the ball from Hedo Turkoglu on the next possession and finds Gasol again for a big bucket. A minute later, Courtney Lee hits a three-pointer that gives Orlando a lead with just 31 seconds left. Phil Jackson draws up a play to get Kobe the ball just outside of the lane. It works, but he misses badly on a pull-up jumper. As if he had not done enough for the team recently, Gasol grabs the offensive board and is fouled in the process. Two made free-throws later, the Lakers lead by one with seven seconds to go. The Magic frantically work the ball up the court only to wind up with an off-balance, contested three from Turkoglu that goes awry. The Lakers win and hold homecourt up 2-0 as the series moves to Orlando.

Boxscore with play-by-play >>

NBA Finals Game 3
Los Angeles 87 @ Orlando 96 - No dramatic fourth quarter in Game Three as the Magic get up big by halftime and never look back. Though the Magic get the much-needed victory, the credit for that victory should go to Kobe Bryant, who has one of his worst ever playoff performances, turning the ball over five times and hitting just 5-of-14 shots, including going 0-of-4 from threes and only attempting two free-throws. Phil Jackson will probably have something to say about that, but he cannot help the fact that the Lakers' superstar has an off night while Dwight Howard and the Magic are on. Howard dominates at home with 26 points, an astounding 19 rebounds and three blocks. A relatively quiet game by the officials - by post-season standards - seems to favor Orlando.

Boxscore with play-by-play >>

NBA Finals Game 4
Los Angeles 109 @ Orlando 115 - A 66-point flurry of a final quarter packed with Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza dunks and deep threes by Rashard Lewis and others provides the entertainment that all NBA fans crave in the playoffs. There is even a little drama thrown in as well when LA pulls within three points at 108-105 with just 1:15 remaining; only to witness one of those aforementioned Howard throw-downs and a few clutch free-throws from Howard and Hedo Turkoglu in the final stretch. Just like that, after two games at both arenas, the series is tied. Following three fairly quiet games, Lewis is the standout in Game Four. His scoring barrage starts a minute into the game and does not let up until Howard takes over in the fourth quarter. For the game, Lewis leads all scorers with 32 points, including six threes, to go with five assists and seven rebounds. Howard again overpowers the Lakers to pull down 19 rebounds in addition to his 19 points. With Lewis shooting well, Orlando finally gets its three-point game working, hitting 13 to LA's six threes and opening up the inside for those dunks.

Boxscore with play-by-play >>

NBA Finals Game 5
Los Angeles 110 @ Orlando 104 - As can be crucial for the better seeded team in a 2-3-2 best-of-seven format, LA gains all of the momentum in the series by winning Game Five in Orlando and returning home just needing to win one of two games at the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant really breaks out in the critical contest, scoring a series-high 37 points, getting some of the calls he did not get in Game Three and making 14-of-15 free-throws. Kobe, a famous "closer" in pivotal games, scores 11 of those points in the fourth quarter. Better yet, he also assists on four fourth quarter baskets, giving him a direct hand in a Lebron-esque 19 of his team's 23 points in the final ten minutes. The Magic needed that game.

Boxscore with play-by-play >>

NBA Finals Game 6
Orlando 95 @ Los Angeles 101 - And it's over. The deciding game is much closer and more exciting than last season's finish as the Magic keep the result in doubt into the final minute. Kobe Bryant is ultimately too determined and his surrounding team too good for Orlando. The Lakers actually enter the fourth quarter of Game Six down 72-70, meaning that the NBA Finals champions trail after three quarters in five of the six games. As he did in Game Five though, Kobe takes over the final period of Game Six, shooting the ball ten times and scoring 11 points in aiding LA to a six-point victory and NBA title. Bryant follows up a 37-point outing with a 36-point game to close out the series. Helping to prove that Kobe still needs the help of a big guy (or three), Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom also have big performances. Gasol goes for 27 points, five assists and seven rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. Bynum notches a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. And Lamar Odom grabs 11 rebounds and blocks three shots. No one on the Magic scores more than 20 points.

Boxscore with play-by-play >>

Summary
The Los Angeles Lakers win the 2009 NBA Finals in six games. Kobe Bryant (finally) leads his team to victory and earns the Bill Russell MVP Award for his efforts. Bryant does a little of everything in the series, averaging 25.5 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals a game in the six games. Other Laker standouts from the six-game series include Pau Gasol (18.0 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.5 apg), Trevor Ariza (12.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.7 spg) and Andrew Bynum (11.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg). In total, the Lakers average 14.3 offensive rebounds and 12.4 turnovers to Orlando's 10.4 offensive rebounds and 14.2 turnovers, giving LA about six more possessions a game than the Magic. Orlando is led by its superstar Dwight Howard, who actually plays like the best overall talent in the series, putting up 25.7 points, 17.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest. Rashard Lewis (17.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 spg) and Rafer Alston (15.3 ppg, 6.0 apg, 1.8 spg) play well, but Hedo Turkoglu really struggles with just 11.8 points a game.

Paul Bessire is the Product Manager of Content and Quantitative Analysis for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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