Will the Road Team Survive?
Charles Barkley famously says during every postseason that the series does not really begin until the road team wins. Orlando did its job in holding serve at Amway Arena and taking a 2-0 lead.
Now the chess match can really begin as the Magic take to the road for the first time this postseason.
Time Warner Cable Arena is going to be rocking for the Bobcats first playoff game. Charlotte has hosted a playoff game before back when the Hornets were in town, so it will not be crazy as Oklahoma City’s first playoff game from Thursday. But expect a very hostile and very loud crowd.
Charlotte is the type of team that will feed off this crowd and it will take all of Orlando’s focus to block it out and play its game.
Some basic numbers first. Charlotte went 31-10 at home compared to 13-28 on the road. The Bobcats are clearly a much better team when playing at home, as most young teams are. Orlando has a much better road record with a 25-16 mark away from Amway Arena. But consider this: the Magic were 27-14 last year and the year before on the road.
A two-game difference is not a whole lot and Orlando has done a better job defending its home court in that time. But it is worth noting that while still a good record, it is not as good as the team has been in the Stan Van Gundy era.
Another thing to consider is the Game Three effect. The lower seeded team tends to throw its best punch in Game Three whether they are down 2-0 or not.
The Magic have seen this firsthand. Orlando won its lone game in the Finals last year in Game Three behind an amped up Amway Arena. The last time the Magic had a 2-0 first round lead, they dropped Game Three in Toronto on their way to a five-game series victory.
Last year, the home team was 4-0 in Game Threes Orlando played. In the postseason last year, the home team was 10-6 in Game Three. For a league that is apparently lopsided and easy to predict, this seems to be a pretty good indicator that Game Three is in the home team’s favor.
The next thing to consider is that the Bobcats have had to play from behind in both games and have not really been close. Charlotte has been able to come back and make games closer than they were for the most part. But the Bobcats were not losing on any buzzer beaters like the Bulls did in Cleveland or the Thunder did in Los Angeles earlier this year.
If Charlotte Attacks, Will the Perimeter Defense Hold?
With an amped up home crowd, you would expect the Bobcats to attack the basket with near reckless abandon. Then again, you might expect that after a game when the Bobcats nearly erased a 22-point deficit on free throws alone.
Really this question comes down to whether Charlotte will continue to force Dwight Howard to put himself in foul situations. Howard is going to change shots and challenge shots with his shot blocking ability and mere presence. But the Bobcats have been very good at drawing defensive fouls on him (Howard has compounded the problem by making frustration fouls throughout the first two games).
The Bobcats are a team that must attack. Orlando did a much better job keeping Charlotte out of the paint and away from Howard (Howard really took himself out of the game with silly fouls, it was not much of what Charlotte was doing). The Magic will need another concerted effort to keep the Bobcats perimeter players from driving in. They must force jumpers to win.
How Consistent Can Orlando’s Offense Get?
Games One and Two proved both these teams can play defense, but it also proved Orlando can get on a roll offensively and can do enough to take a comfortable lead against Charlotte. Yet, it has not been enough to get any clear separation or maintain big leads.
Eventually you would think either the flood gates would open and Orlando would roll to an easy victory or Charlotte would find a way to stop Orlando’s offense from breaking out. With so many 3-point shooters and the possibility of Dwight Howard playing more than 15 minutes in the second half, the former seems more likely.
Getting Howard involved will be key. His nine points to start the third quarter led to an offensive outburst of 34 points in the third quarter that led to the Magic’s big lead in Game Two. Charlotte has done a good job running Orlando off the 3-point line, but even that has hurt Charlotte. Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter have been effective driving in and Mickael Pietrus is hitting 3-pointers at a pretty reliable rate.
The Bobcats do not have a lot of the offensive options the Magic have. Their defense is strong enough to keep Orlando in a funk though. And that definitely gives Charlotte a chance.
The Magic have to be able to extend and maintain leads when the offense is clicking like it has at time this series.