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Most intriguing Finals storylines

Wanna buy some used puppets?

There went that Kobe-LeBron mini-series of a marketing campaign, to great snickering from central Florida. Or at least that's what it sounded like over the crying jags around the ABC offices.

It's Lakers-Magic in the end, not Lakers-Cavaliers, Presented by Nike. Better yet, in place of the dream matchup for ratings, it is deservedly Orlando in L.A. on Thursday for Game 1. A best-of-seven series that remains star driven in the absence of LeBron James should still be captivating, and definitely will have its own storylines.

No flukes here. Kobe Bryant is great, Dwight Howard is in the constellation, the Lakers have been a predictable representative for the West since training camp and the Magic so convincingly dispatched the supposed best team in the East that Cleveland's elimination is an emotional bruising for an entire city.

And, look. There's Shaquille O'Neal.

Yes, there are still storylines. Among them:

The Lakers have home-court advantage, which coach Phil Jackson said all along would be an important factor in the title pursuit. They wouldn't have had it against the Cavaliers, and this way get Games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, 6 and 7 at Staples Center, thereby avoiding the potential of two long hauls. Los Angeles to Orlando just once, as opposed to L.A. to Cleveland to start the series, Cleveland to L.A. for the middle set in the 2-3-2 format and likely L.A. back to Cleveland for the closing block.

Except that the Magic are very good on the road -- 27-14 in the regular season followed by the series-clinching win in the first round against the 76ers, followed by the Game 7 win in the second round against the Celtics, followed immediately by the Game 1 win in Cleveland. Orlando went to Staples on Jan. 16, scored 65 points in the second half and won 109-103.

His play, or lack thereof, affects the Lakers' chances and the Lakers' rotation and the Lakers' depth. No surprise. Same storyline as every series, with no way of knowing which Bynum they'll get.

It's just that this time, L.A. needs him. The Jazz were without Mehmet Okur for three games in the first round, Yao Ming is more shooter than crushing inside presence and he missed the last four games of the second round anyway, and Nenê is the fourth or fifth option for Denver, depending on who's on the court.

Howard, though,embarrasses people. People like Bynum.

• Dec. 20 in Orlando: Howard had 18 points (he took only six shots, making four) and 12 rebounds in just 31 minutes. Bynum had three points and one rebound in 12 minutes, though that was long enough to get five fouls. Magic win.

• Jan. 16 in Los Angeles: Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds in 40 minutes. Bynum had 14 and three in 33 minutes. Magic win.

The Lakers can talk all they want about a size advantage with Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom playing together. But if Bynum gets rolled again, they're out of true centers at the very wrong time.

Three championships, but zero without O'Neal. (Not that Shaq would ever mention it.) Bryant has always wanted to put his mark on history. Doing that requires a title as The Man. The next few weeks are not all on him, but what happens will partly determine how he is viewed the next couple of decades.

Simply. Not. True.

It's a myth, a reach of explanation on why some newcomers have lost. A cop-out.

While the Lakers having played last June -- sort of -- is undoubtedly an advantage in experience, the Magic are not in a deep hole because they're here for the first time with this group. The Celtics of 2008, the Heat of '06, the Pistons of '04, the Lakers of '00 all won without first losing.

Nine titles as a coach for Red Auerbach, nine for Jackson. As if anyone who's ever driven through Boston wasn't already rooting against the Lakers.

Jackson could break the record or could be about to walk away. He said just before the playoffs that "I have every expectation to return," but has not said officially he will exercise the 2009-10 option, and there is no reason to think an announcement would come during the championship series. Unlikely or not, it has to come into play on some level that these could be the final games for one of the all-time great coaches.

Forget that the All-Star point guard would not be in game shape and, in the real concern, that this is the absolute worst time for Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to be blending players into the lineup. If Nelson does play for the first time since Feb. 19 shoulder surgery -- the Orlando Sentinel reported the Magic are exploring the possibility in a switch from the original timetable that he was done for the season -- imagine the emotional lift.

Beating the more-experienced Celtics in a Game 7, making the Cavaliers look like the underdog, reaching the Finals six years after finishing with the worst record in the league and getting Nelson back? One energy boost after another.

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