RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Los Angeles Lakers are off to a great start in the franchise's 30th NBA Finals appearance. Last night in L.A., the Lakers burst out of the gate and beat the Orlando Magic in Game One of their series to decide the league's new champion. NPR's Tom Goldman was there and has the story of the game from Staples Center.
Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentleman, game one starts now.
(Soundbite of cheering)
TOM GOLDMAN: I've asked Chris Mannix, an NBA writer with Sports Illustrated, to come by and give us a clue as to what's going to happen in this game or what he thinks is going to happen.
So Chris, thanks for coming.
Mr. CHRIS MANNIX (Writer, Sports Illustrated): My pleasure.
GOLDMAN: Now, a lot has been said through the playoffs about Orlando. When you look at Orlando, it's a tough team to guard. They've got this really difficult situation where you've got a super player on the post, a big man, Dwight Howard. And then you've got these guys, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, guys who can hit the three. You've got this very interesting inside/outside combination. Lakers have to be worried about that, I would suppose. How do they defend that?
Mr. MANNIX: They have to be very worried about it, because Orlando's a unique team. I mean, rarely do you see a team with basically one interior player and four perimeter defenders advance to the NBA Finals. The Lakers have to be wary about that. They can't keep their conventional line-up on the floor at all times.
GOLDMAN: Okay. I'm talking to Chris Mannix, the NBA writer for Sports Illustrated magazine. Now, Chris, for those people who aren't interested in maybe the Xs and Os, how can you sell this series to them? Are there intriguing personalities, interesting personalities down there on the court?
Mr. MANNIX: Well, it's all - to me it's all about Kobe Bryant. I mean, he is arguably the most compelling personality in the NBA, while also being the most polarizing figure in the NBA at the same time. So it's going to be interesting to watch him as he tries to win his first championship outside of the long shadow of Shaquille O'Neal.
I mean, that's the thing that's been driving Kobe for these last two or three seasons, winning that championship, proving he can be the number one player on a championship team. So it's going to be interesting to see how he reacts and what kind of performance he gives in this series.
GOLDMAN: Why is he so polarizing? Why can't we just embrace him?
Mr. MANNIX: It goes - it's a lot of things. It goes back to 2003, when he was accused of sexual assault. I mean, he's been asked out of L.A. He's bashed his teammates in the press. So he's not exactly a lovable guy.
That said, I mean giving LeBron James his credit, there really is no better individually talented player than Kobe Bryant in the NBA. He is a dynamic offensive player, a terrific defensive player, and the one guy in the (unintelligible) you would want to go to in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GOLDMAN: Last night, the Lakers didn't need Kobe Bryant to come through in the clutch, because the game already was over by the fourth quarter, largely due to Bryant. His 40 points were a career high in the finals.
His fist pumps and bared teeth were the emotional exclamation point after each dazzling play and a stark contrast to his almost grim demeanor in the post-game press conference. He listened to questions with lips tightly pursed and no emotion on his face.
Mr. KOBE BRYANT (L.A. Lakers): I just want it so bad, that's all. I just want it really bad.
GOLDMAN: And it wasn't just an act, he said, for reporters.
Mr. BRYANT: My kids call me Grumpy from the Seven Dwarves. That's pretty much how I've been at home, just been a grouch just waiting for this series.
GOLDMAN: Now that's it's here, it was evident last night the Lakers, losers in last year's finals, want to make the most of their second straight chance. Bryant aside, the entire team played great defense, holding center Dwight Howard and all those three-point shooters in check.
After the 100-75 defeat, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said there was nothing to like other than the knowledge that Sunday they get another chance in Game Two.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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