Orlando Magic @ Charlotte Bobcats

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The Orlando Magic gave arguably their best defensive effort of the season in their 100-84 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. The Magic will look to win their third straight game for the first time in over a month when they play the Charlotte Bobcats Saturday night.

The Magic defeated the Bobcats twice in the first 10 games, but before Friday night’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Bobcats were the hottest team in the NBA. They’d won six games in a row nine of their last 10. Charlotte is now 21-20 and is currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Magic have improved to 28-15 and are just a half-game out of the third seed, meaning this game is a potential playoff preview.

The Bobcats have been on of the league’s elite home teams – they are 18-4 at the Time Warner Cable Arena. Orlando, who has been one of he league’s elite road teams under Head Coach Stan Van Gundy, has fallen to 12-11 on the road this season.

Tip-off from the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte is set for 7:00 pm EST and you can watch the game on FSN. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen to it locally on WDBO AM 580 and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.

Starters:

Orlando

Dwight Howard
Rashard Lewis
Matt Barnes
Vince Carter
Jameer Nelson

Charlotte

Nazr Mohammed
Boris Diaw
Gerald Wallace
Stephen Jackson
Raymond Felton

Update: It looks like Raymond Felton will be out after spraining his ankle against the Hawks.

Update: Felton will in fact play and start.

The Line: Orlando -1.5

Orlando has defeated Charlotte twice this season but each game has been close. Orlando held Charlotte to just 10 fourth quarter points back on November 10th to finish off a 93-81 and came from behind to defeat the Bobcats on November 16th in Rashard Lewis’ first game of the season.

Under Head Coach Larry Brown, Charlotte has become one of the best defensive teams in basketball. The Bobcats give up just 92.5 points per game and just nudges out Boston as the most efficient defensive team in basketball.

In the locker room after Friday night’s game, J.J. Redick said that the Magic would have to be more careful and protect the basketball against the Bobcats’ defense. Orlando has had turnover issues all season long and had 23 turnovers in their win over Sacramento. Orlando’s turnover rate has risen to 24.5%. Dwight Howard is averaging 3.5 turnovers per game.

Speaking of Howard, he has gone 27-of-36 from the free throw line. Van Gundy said that if Howard, who shoots 60.3% from the stripe, can continue to hit between 70 and 75% of his free throws, teams will have to change what they do defensively against Howard.

Howard has struggled against the Bobcats this season, averaging just 14.5 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per against the Bobcats.

Orlando has had some shooting woes lately and has not shot well against Charlotte this season. In two games against the Hornets, the Magic have shot 71-of-158 (44.9%).

Charlotte’s offense can’t match their defense, but it has been better since the acquisition of Stephen Jackson. Jackson is scoring 20.0 points per game on 42.3% shooting for the Bobcats this season.

Charlotte scores just 94.2 points per game and ranks 25th in offensive efficiency. The Bobcats struggle to score even with Jackson so if the Magic bring the same intensity and effort that they have over the last three games, they should be able to shut Charlotte’s offense down.

The Magic will be in for a fight. They need to keep their composure and not allow Charlotte’s defense to frustrate them into bad shots and silly turnovers.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)