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Series Preview: Charlotte Bobcats Vs. Orlando Magic


The Orlando Magic finished the season ranked fourth in offensive rating(111.4), 18th in pace (92.0) and third in defensive rating (103.3). The Magic finished the season with a record of 59-23. The Charlotte Bobcats were 24th in offensive rating (104.4) 26th in pace (90.4) and first in defensive rating (102.8). The Bobcats finished the season with a record of 44-38.



Charlotte Bobcats

Theo Ratliff

Boris Diaw

Gerald Wallace

Stephen Jackson

Raymond Felton

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard

Rashard Lewis

Matt Barnes

Vince Carter

Jameer Nelson

These two teams have played four times this season with the Magic taking the series three games-to-one. Each contest has been close and with the exception of their last meeting, a 96-89 Charlotte victory back on March 14th, the difference in the game was the way the Magic executed down the stretch. A prime example of this was Orlando’s overtime win in Charlotte on January 23rd. The Magic outscored the Bobcats 14-3 in overtime.

Under Head Coach Larry Brown, the Bobcats have turned into the top defense in the NBA. And that’s largely due to their strong interior defense. The Bobcats can throw Tyson Chandler, Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop,and Tyrus Thomas at opponent’s front courts.

In fact, the interior defense of the Bobcats has been so good that 40.4% of Orlando’s shots against Charlotte have been three-pointers (Thanks to Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post for those numbers).  This is not completely abnormal. After all, Orlando did just break a league record for most three-pointers made in a season, so they could be playing right into Orlando’s hands.

The Bobcats have done a decent job of slowing Dwight Howard on offense, allowing him to score 16.5 points per game in four games against the Bobcats, nearly two points below his season average. Howard still shot 62.8% from the field and got some pretty good looks against the Bobcats. Howard has picked up 16 fouls in the four games but has totaled 160 minutes (40 minutes per game) against the Bobcats this season, which is a lot, but it’s a bit inflated because he played 49 minutes in Orlando’s overtime victory back in late January. For the Magic, it’s still good to see that Howard has, for the most part, managed to stay on the court against the Bobcats.

Of course, Howard has only seen the new-look Bobcats defense, which features two new front court players who have been recognized as good defensive players in Center Theo Ratliff and Forward Tyrus Thomas, once. Although Charlotte was victorious in that game, Howard scored 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked two shots. He did pick up five fouls.

Even with all of the players the Bobcats can throw at Howard, he should still have his way down low. He’s made too many improvements in his game offensively, his hook is better than ever, he has become very good at passing out of double teams, he has a bigger aresenal of moves to go to down low and has just become a smarter, more mature player, to be shut down by any team.

Interior defense isn’t all the Bobcats have. Gerald Wallace is candidate for Defensive Player of the Year (well, as much of a candidate as a player not named Dwight Howard can be) and Stephen Jackson is a good wing defender. The Bobcats have done an excellet job of defending Lewis because both Wallace and Boris Diaw are capable of stepping out to defend this stretch four. Due to their excellent wing defense, Vince Carter should have his work cut out for him. Carter’s teammates are expecting big things out of Carter in the postseason and believe that he has spent the last few weeks readying for the playoffs and fine-tuning his game. Carter said as much himself after Wednesday night’s win over the 76ers.

“There’s no rush (in getting ready for the playoffs),” Carter said. “There’s no rush. I’m not an impatient person. Just try and accomplish what we need to do, fine-tune things to get ourselves prepared.”

Jameer Nelson will be key for the Magic. Nelson missed the entire 2009 postseason before playing in the NBA Finals, but did not look ready to return and scored just 3.8 points per game. This will be Nelson’s first healthy playoff appearance since the Magic were defeated by the Detroit Pistons in five games in 2008. Nelson played very well in the 2008 postseason – he scored 16.2 points per game, dished out 4.7 assists per and grabbed 4.1 rebounds per game while averaging 2.1 turnovers per game. The Magic are going to need Nelson to play more like that, which is something he has been doing latey. Nelson’s scoring is still down, but he played much better over the second half of the season – he got his teammates involed, drove into the paint more often and shot the ball better. More importantly, his legs looked fresh and it seems like the All-Star break gave Nelson a chance to heal up some lingering injuries, including his torn meniscus, which he had surgery to repair earlier in the season.

Nelson, along with his backcourt mate, Vince Carter, need to continue to take good shots, attack the rim, find ways to get their teammates involved and protect the basketball against Charlotte’s elite defense.

Carter will be expected to create his own shot when the Magic go through some offensive lulls, which is bound to happen against Charlotte, and his teammates expect him to be able to get his shot whenever he wants.

Within the organization, there is some concern about Nelson’s defense heading into the playoffs. Point Guards have torched the Magic on several occasions. Both Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin are quick players who have gone off on the Magic at one point this season.

Defensively, the Magic will key on Stephen Jackson. Jackson scored 20.6 points per game, shot an effective field goal percentage of 46.9% and a true shooting percentage of 52.0% this season. Jackson scored 18.7 points per game against the Magic. Jackson takes a little less than a third of his shots (6.0 of his 18.7 attempts) at the rim. Jackson shoots just 55.3% on these shots and has 6.9% of his shots blocked. Jackson takes 4.9 three-pointers per game and 4.5 shots per from within 16-23 feet, which accounts for 24.1% of his shots. He shoots just 37.0% from from there. The Magic would love for Jackson (and the rest of the Bobcats for that matter) to attempt a majority of shots from 16-23 feet because of how inefficient the shot is.

Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus will likely share the job of trying to slow Jackson and both players are above average defenders.

Barnes is up for the challenge.

“We have the eye of the tiger right now,” Barnes told the media. “We stopped being the hunted and became the hunter.”

Gerald Wallace has also had a good offensive season. He’s scoring 18.2 points and grabbing 10.0 rebounds per game. Wallace’s effective field goal percentage is 51.1% and for the most part, he takes fairly efficient shots. Shot attempts at the rim make up 57.3% of his shots and he shoots 58.6% on those shots. However, Wallace gets 11.2 of his shots blocked.

That doesn’t bode well for a player who is going to have drive into the lane against the league’s leading shot-blocker and best defensive player, Dwight Howard. Howard is absolute monster on the defensive end. Not only does he block 2.8 shots per game (his block percentage is 6.0) and grab 9.7 defensive rebounds per game (he grabs 31.3% of available defensive rebounds), but Howard alters many other shots and often prevents wing players from even attempting to get to the basket, instead choosing to take shots with a much higher degree of difficulty.

The Bobcats will be forced to step out and make shots and they are one of the poorest three-point shooting teams in the league. They hit 34.6% of their three-pointers and only make 5.6 per game.

Howard’s teammates know that their success depends on him.

“The most important thing is that Dwight has to stay focused,” Gortat told reporters Wednesday night. “He can’t get distracted by hard fouls from aggressive play by other big men. I believe that Dwight is going to do the best.”

The Magic should have an advantage on the glass. In terms of rebounding rate, Orlando was fourth in the league (51.9%) while Charlotte was 10th (50.7%).

Charlotte has some depth with  Tyson Chandler, D.J. Augustin and the newly acquired Larry Hughes coming off the bench, but they should be no match for the Magic, who boast the deepest team in the league. Orlando’s bench has been very effective this season.

It will be very interesting to see whether Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy turns to Brandon Bass or Ryan Anderson when Rashard Lewis exits the game. Van Gundy has turned to both players at different times this season. Anderson has played in two games against the Bobcats, playing 15.0 minutes per game – he’s scored 8.5 points and grabbed 2.0 rebounds per game. Bass has played in three games against Charlotte, including one early season start. He’s scored 8.0 points and grabbed 4.3 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. Van Gundy has played both players for long stretches and has stated numerous times that he is going to play whichever player has the better matchup.  Anderson has been a better scorer, rebounder and passer this season, but that’s a whole nother argument.

Larry Hughes could provide some instant offense off of the bench for the Bobcats. He’s an extremely talented player who’s never really got “it” and is notorious for taking bad shots. Hughes has appeared in 14 games for the Bobcats and is scoring 8.1 points per game, but has shot the ball poorly from the field (32.7%). He has been better from beyond the arc (35.7%) so the Magic need to be prepared for that.

Orlando’s backups, namely J.J. Redick (9.6 points, 1.9 assists, 1.9 rebounds per game) and Mickael Pietrus (8.7 points per game), who was one of Orlando’s postseason heros in 2010, are much better, more reliable options. Jason Williams has ran the point very well for the Magic and Marcin Gortat is a nice option at Center off the bench. Orlando’s bench clearly has an advantage over Charlotte.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor on the Fansided Front Page and at Sir Charles In Charge. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).