Charlotte Bobcats @ Orlando Magic

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Update: Matt Barnes is inactive with a sprained left big toe.

The Orlando Magic, fresh off a victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night, will have to go right back to work on Sunday night when they return home to host the Charlotte Bobcats. The Magic have now won eight straight games, which is an NBA high because the Dallas Mavericks had their 13-game winning streak snapped by the New York Knicks on Friday night. The Charlotte Bobcats are also one of the league’s hottest teams – they have now won five consecutive games. In their last contest, they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 106-98 on Friday night.

The Magic and the Bobcats have met three times this season. Although the Bobcats gave the Magic some problems and played three close games with the Magic, the Magic made big plays down the stretch and won each meeting.

The Bobcats have upgraded their talent since they last saw the Magic. On February 18th, they sent Flip Murray and Acie Law to Chicago in exchange for Tyrus Thomas. Charlotte also acquired Theo Ratliff for future considerations, giving them one of the most formidable defensive frontlnes in the entire NBA. The Bobcats have been one of the most aggressive teams this season – they acquired Stephen Jackson back on November 16th in part of a four player deal.

The 33-31 Bobcats have climbed into a tie for sixth spot with the Miami Heat, but currently hold the tiebreaker. This is another potential playoff preview, but the Bobcats are still 12 games behind the Southeast Divison leading Magic. The Bobcats, who have been excellent at home, are just 9-23 on the road. The Magic are 27-6 at Amway Arena.

Tip-off from the Am is scheduled for 6:00 pm EST and the game will be shown locally by FSN Florida. 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.

The Line: Orlando – 8.5

Starters:

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard
Rashard Lewis
Matt Barnes Mickael Pietrus
Vince Carter
Jameer Nelson

Charlotte Bobcats

Theo Ratliff
Boris Diaw
Stephen Graham
Stephen Jackson
Raymond Felton

DeSagana Diop (sprained right MCL) and Nazr Mohammed (back spasms) are out indefinitely. Gerald Wallace left Friday night’s game with a sprained left ankle. An MRI came back negative on Saturday but he is expected to miss Sunday’s game. Wallace, an All-Star, is Charlotte’s second-leading scorer and their leading rebounder.

The Bobcats have given the Magic all they can handle in three meetings this season, but they are yet to defeat them.

Back on November 10th at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, the Bobcats rallied from an 18-point third quarter deficit to cut the lead to six with just 10:23 to play but the Magic held the Bobcats to just 10 fourth quarter points and came away with a 93-81 win. Dwight Howard and Vince Carter each had 15 points to lead the Magic. Raymond Felton’s 18 led the Bobcats.

Just six days later in Orlando, the Magic rallied in the second half, took a double-digit fourth quarter lead and then held on for a 97-91 victory. Flip Murray, who is now a member of the Chicago Bulls, went off for 31 points and Boris Diaw added 21. Seven Magic players scored in double figures led by Jameer Nelson’s 16 points.

On January 23rd in Charlotte, the Magic blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead and watched Stephen Jackson send the game to overtime on a layup with just one second to play. Jameer Nelson went off early in extra time and the Magic dominated overtime 14-3 to come away with a 106-95 victory. D.J. Augustin had the hot hand for the Bobcats, scoring 22 points off the bench. Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter scored 21 points each and all five Magic starters scored in double figures.

Charlotte’s strong suit is not offense. The Bobcats score only 94.9 points per game and rank 25th in efficiency (100.9). Orlando counters with the league’s most efficient defense (99.4).

Charlotte’s leading scorer is Stephen Jackson. He is averaging 21.4 points per game on 42.7% shooting and has given the Bobcats the offensive upgrade they needed to make a playoff push.

Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin have both presented problems for Orlando’s defenders this season.

Charlotte’s is a very good defensive team. They give up 93.9 points per game and rank fifth in efficiency (100.2).

Orlando’s offense scores 102.0 points per game and rank sixth in efficiency (108.0).

The Bobcats’ centers have had some injury problems and although Theo Ratliff has given Dwight Howard problems in the past, he is just a month shy of 37 and has not presented those same problems this season. Howard has had some trouble scoring against the tough interior defense of the Bobcats (13.0 points per game) but he has still dominated the boards (13.7 rebounds per game). Howard has been playing much better on offense since their last meeting and should be able to handle wahtever Charlotte can throw at him.

They key for the Magic will be protecting the ball. They have had some turnover issues this season but their starting backcourt (Nelson and Carter) have done a much better job of protecting the ball. They are making good decisions and they must continue to do so.

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