The NBA finals start this Thursday as the L.A. Lakers and the Orlando Magic vie for the championship. Orlando, lead by the “super” play of their superman Dwight Howard, has risen past the defending champion Boston Celtics and Lebron Cavaliers. Kobe Bryant will look to show his critics that he is a leader, further solidifying his name among the greatest players of all time.

Will The Black Mamba Strike?

Bryant is having yet another excellent playoffs, averaging 26 PPG, 4 RPG, and 5 APG. Although Michael Pietrus played solid defense against the seemingly unstoppable King James, he will have his hands full against Bryant, hailed by many as the most difficult player in the league to guard one-on-one.

When double teamed, Kobe can pass it off to hot shooters like Trevor Ariza (.500 FG%) or interior threats Paul Gasol (18 PPG., 9.6 RPG,  Lamar Odom (11.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG) and the now healthy Andrew Bynum.

A regular NBA All-Defensive Team member, Bryant will help shut down  Hedo Turkoglu (16.8 PPG, 4.9 APG) and Rashard Lewis (17.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG), who have been lighting it up from downtown.

Can Superman Save The Day?

Dwight Howard’s 20 PPG and over .600 FG% attest to his dominance in the paint. He expects to be fouled and will face numerous double-teams, leaving open a corp of ready, willing, and able Magic three point shooters including Turkoglu, Lewis, and Rafer Alston. Orlando hasn't been shy from behind the arc, especially in clutch situations, but they must play solid defense if they ever want to see these situations against L.A.

Howard, the reigning defensive player of the year will continue to own the paint with his 3 BPG and 14 RPG. He has a habit of getting in foul trouble early, and the Lakers will look to exploit that tendency. Howard’s hands will be full against the offensive forays of Odom, Gasol, and Bynum, but the possible return of point guard Jameer Nelson could give Dwight some breathing room.

Our Prediction

The Lakers’ depth and strong inside presence against Howard will trump the streaky three-point shooting of the Magic. L.A. has the coaching edge with Phil Jackson, and there is no known anti-venom for the Black Mamba. Lakers in 6.