Will Dwight Howard be able to stay on the floor?
The big difference between a first half when Orlando grabbed a 16-point lead and a second half when Charlotte cut that lead to five points with less than two minutes to play was the presence of Dwight Howard.
His nine blocks got the Magic juiced early and his mere presence offensively sunk the Bobcats defense away from the other players on the floor. As Larry Brown said after the game, Howard did not need to score to be the most valuable player on the floor.
But the blocked shots also became his undoing. Charlotte did not stop attacking even with Howard flirting with an NBA record for blocked shots in a playoff game. Instead in the second half, Howard began committing fouls (some stupid, but most of them aggressive). The Bobcats adjusted and did not shade Howard as closely as they did in the first half. But with him out of the game, the Magic lost their easy ability to get into the paint.
Charlotte is going to foul Howard every time he gets close to the basket. The first step is Howard has to make free throws to stay relevant offensively — Stan Van Gundy admitted he went away from him too quickly to his credit.
The next step is Howard is going to have to be smarter with how he challenges drivers and Orlando’s perimeter defense will have to improve. The Magic allowed a lot of dribble penetration to force Howard’s hand. He has the luxury of being able to roam with so many offensively limited centers on the floor for Charlotte, but he has to be smarter with how he challenges and changes shots.
With him on the floor, I am not sure the Bobcats will be able to stand up to him.
What is Stephen Jackson’s status?
When Stephen Jackson was on the floor at the end of the first half clutching his knee in pain, any thought of Charlotte scoring an upset went out the window. Without Jackson, the Bobcats do not have a chance in this series.
For Charlotte fans it must have been a relief to see him get back up and come back in for the second half. Jackson still had 18 points in Game One, although he shot six of 18 from the floor to get it.
Jackson provides a toughness and grit — not to mention experience — that no one else on the Bobcats can provide. He is the heart and soul of the team and his acquisition early in the season was the catalyst for the franchise’s first playoff berth.
So it must have been puzzling too to see Jackson sitting on the bench during a tight game, standing and waiting for his number to be called and itching to come back. He never did and the Bobcats could not make enough plays offensively to complete an improbable comeback.
Jackson officially has a shin bruise. Not a serious injury, but surely won that will hurt. He is practicing and the time off in between games will help in the recovery, but he will have to figure out quickly what kind of impact he can have on the rest of this series.
Who will repeat their performances and who will not?
The Playoffs are all about adjustments. Larry Brown and Stan Van Gundy will make their changes and unleash their plans in Game Two.
But the good players find a way to persevere and still produce no matter what their opponent throws at them. This is where the Magic probably have the advantage.
Can you expect Gerald Wallace to match his 25-point, 17-rebound effort in Game Two? Can you expect Vince Carter to shoot 4 for 19 again? Can you expect Dwight Howard not to grab 10 rebounds in back-to-back games?
Everyone is going to regress back to their mean. Jameer Nelson, in all likelihood, will not be averaging 30 points per game in this series. The challenge for Nelson, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw and Rashard Lewis is to either match or improve upon their performances in Game One.
For Nelson, Lewis and Felton, they played well above their season averages and dominated the game for stretches. For Diaw, he is Charlotte’s x-factor — as much as Lewis is Orlando’s. Diaw has a great ability to play all over the floor. But his aggression is not always there. He scored all six of his points in the first quarter Sunday. If he has another performance like that, Orlando will win.
Unless someone else steps up.