Bobcats vs Magic Playoff Preview Part I

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Bobcats Baseline 2010 Playoff Preview: Round One BOBCATS VS MAGIC

Welcome to Bobcats Baseline’s preview of the Bobcats first ever playoff series.

First, some general stuff.  The Magic finished the year 59-23 (34-7 home).  They posted the best overall point differential in the league this year: +7.5.   Hollinger’s formulas have them ranked as the second best in the league in terms of offensive efficiency (behind only the Suns) and tied with the Bobcats for first in defensive efficiency.

Head to head, Orlando won the season series over the Bobcats 3-1.  The Magic took the first game in Orlando back on November 10, 93-81.  Game two just six days later in Charlotte turned out to be Stephen Jackson’s Bobcats debut, but the game went to the Magic again, 97-91.

The Cats took Orlando to overtime in Charlotte on January 23, but the Magic once again prevailed, 105-95.  Finally, in the last matchup on March 14, the Cats broke through for a 96-89 win, despite playing in Orlando without an injured Gerald Wallace.

Now lets get down to the matchups.  ASChin and I decided to do a collabo for this, and we’ll start by breaking down the battle in the paint.

Dr. E: In the middle, Dwight Howard creates problems for every other team in the league.  He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots for the year. It’s almost universally agreed upon that Orlando could be even more dominant if they made a more concerted effort to get him the ball on the offensive end (which they don’t always do, especially in the fourth quarter).

But it’s almost as if Larry Brown knew this matchup was coming.  He’s collected a cadre of serviceable big men to play center-by-committee. Theo Ratliff is like an older, wiser version of Tyson Chandler, who has shown signs of life himself in recent weeks.

Nazr Mohammed has looked rusty in two games since returning from back problems, but was a revelation earlier in the season with his ability to score in the post. And Gana Diop is, well, Gana Diop (or Joey Crawford’s avatar).

Together, they represent four bodies and 24 fouls that could be deployed to wear Howard down.

ASChin: Agreed.  They’ll try to win the war of attrition, throwing 24 fouls at Dwight and making the other 4 Magic players beat them one on one.  The last thing that you want to do is play into the Magic’s hands.  They want you to defend DHO for 40+ minutes, using up fouls at the center spot.  Fortunately, the Bobcats have enough bodies in the middle to combat this somewhat but as you see in the breakdown vid below Dwight can now make you pay for single coverage.

Dr. E: The other way the Bobcats may try to neutralize Howard will be to get him into foul trouble himself.  In this blog post from Rick Bonnell (once you get past the nonsense about how Rick and Gerald Wallace are like peas in a pod) Wallace stresses that the Cats need to take it straight at Howard to have a chance.

Howard averaged 3.5 fouls per game this year, fouling out four times and getting to five fouls more times than I bothered to count.  Of course, if Howard gets into foul trouble, backup Marcin Gortat is more than capable of becoming an X-factor.

ASChin: This is a big deal.  The Bobcats aren’t a great jump shooting team.  They’ll have to continue to go to the hoop to have any chance in this series.  With Dwight down there, it’ll be tough but I’m guessing that Coach Brown will try to run a lot high screen pick and rolls with Chandler and Ratliff to try and get Howard out out of the paint.

Lets move on to the 4 spot.

Rashard Lewis is having far from his best season as a pro.  His FG%, ppg, rebounds and blocks are way down.  Not exactly want you want from an $18 million a year guy.  He still shoots lights out from beyond the arc so the ‘Cats will again have to prevent the Magic from forcing a double team on Howard down low.

I think a platoon of Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw matches up well against Lewis.  Diaw in particular is going to force Lewis to guard him on those little post jump-hooks and when Howard comes over for the block, Boris is crafty enough to be able to find Chandler or Mohammed for a dunk or layup with a quick pass in the paint.  Also, look for Crash to play some minutes at the four if Brown decides to turn the tables and go small.

Dr. E: By the way, was it ever fully explained what Lewis’s 10-game PED suspension to start the year was all about?  Ironic that he’s clearly fallen off this season, isn’t it?  Some may write it up to missing training camp and never getting in the groove, or missing Hedo Turkoglu’s point forward drive-and-dishes, but has anyone measured his head circumference-to-testicle ratio serially over the years?

No?  Okay, jussayin.

Anyways, yes, between Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw, the Cats are better suited than most teams to guard and switch out onto Rashard Lewis at the three point line.

Alright, that covers the bigs.  Next up, we’ll discuss the wings and guards.  After that coaching and intangibles.

ASChin: Wait, did you just mention Rashard Lewis’s testicles?

-Dr. E & ASChin

Bobcats Defeat Magic For Sixth Straight Victory

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Charlotte Bobcats @ Magic 3/14/10

The Bobcats defeated the Magic in Orlando 96-89 on Sunday night to earn their sixth straight win.  The Cats improved to 34-31 overall and maintained their hold on the 6th spot in the East.  Though Dwight Howard finished with 27 points on 12-14 FGs, the Bobcats were able to keep him frustrated and in foul trouble all game.

AP recap here |  Box score here

With Gerald Wallace sidelined by an ankle sprain, the Bobcats looked to Stephen Jackson to pick up the slack.  Jack delivered with 28 points (10-20 FG, 3-5 3PT, 5-6 FT), 6 rebounds and 6 assists.  Most importantly, as the game hung in the balance in the fourth quarter, when the Cats of old wouldn’t have been able to score, Jack had three huge buckets and two free throws to seal the win.

Defensively, the Bobcats played another solid game.  Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Michael Pietrus combined for 70 points on 26-40 FG, but the rest of the Magic only managed 19 points on 7-32 FG.  Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis, in particular, shot a combined 3-17 and 1-9 3PT.

Tidbits

  • Theo Ratliff put in a days work, playing 32 minutes guarding Dwight Howard.  Theo finished one rebound short of a double-double with 1o points and 9 rebounds.
  • Stephen Graham filled in admirably for Gerald Wallace, with 12 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-3 FT) and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes.
  • Speaking of Crash, he is traveling with the team despite the fact that he didn’t play and has already been ruled out of Tuesday’s contest with the Pacers.  When interviewed during the game, Gerald said that he’s been wearing a protective boot over the weekend, but was hoping to take it off tonight.  He also indicated that he’d try to play as soon as allowed, knowing that he’ll be playing through soreness.
  • And speaking of the Pacers, apologies for getting this post up late — I got hooked into the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that premiered tonight on the Reggie Miller/Pacers vs. Knicks rivalry.  Fantastic stuff.

-Dr. E

Magic Hit Overtime Overdrive

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Bobcats Baseline Observations: Magic @ Bobcats 1/23/10

Orlando marches into the Cable Box and puts an emphatic end to the ‘Cats nine game home winning streak with a 106-95 overtime victory.  AP recap here.  Box score here.

The Good

With their two stars struggling (more on that later), the Bobcats still managed to take the Eastern Conference Champs to OT due to the efforts of D.J. Augustin and Gana Diop.  D.J. brought out his ’08-’09 game tonight going 8-14 from the field with five threes finishing with 22 points – most of them CLUTCH as the Bobcats were making their 4th quarter run.  D.J.’s best game of the year without a doubt.

DIOP-IT-LIKE-IT’S-HOT defended Dwight Howard (10 points) so well in his 22 minutes of work, that Mark Cuban’s decision to offer Gana the full mid-level a couple of years ago now looks quasi-sane.  Diop’s stats don’t look like much (6pts, 4rbs, 2blks) but his presence was felt on defense and his ability to run the floor in transition kept the Magic honest.

The Bad

The Bobcats found themselves down by as much as sixteen points in the third quarter due to a barrage of three pointers by Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and JJ Redick.  It wasn’t that the ‘Cats were playing bad defense, the Magic were just hitting a lot of ridiculous shots.  Lewis’ 6’10” frame and long wingspan makes his high-release three unguardable; Nelson was having a St. Joe’s flashback with a gimpy Raymond Felton playing tight; Carter dominated early and disappeared late (surprise); while JJ checked in,  got the “Christian Laetner Memorial Greeting” from the fans – then coldly nailed a three.

When the Magic are hitting their trifectas (14 total, 36% behind the arc) there’s not much a team can do other than try to match shots.  Which brings us to…

The Fugly

Eight of Twenty-Nine.  That’s what Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace shot combined.  Add in Boris Diaw’s 2-9 and Raymond’s 6-15 and you have the starters KILLING the team’s chances for victory by anchoring a 40% shooting performance.  Not to take anything away from the Magic (especially in OT when they took it to another level trapping D.J. and Ray on the perimeter and taking away the pick and roll) but JAX and CRASH just couldn’t get anything going.  If Jackson normally “makes love to pressure” then this was a game in need of CIALIS.  JAX launched ugly shot after shot and spent most of the game jack-jawing with the officials.

Same goes for Wallace – who didn’t help his All-Star campaign by registering a DUD while being held in check by defensive maestro Vince Carter (seriously, this actually happened).

The team’s focus seemed to be on the upcoming road trip for most of the game and this was exploited during the OT lay-down that saw Orlando scoring the first eleven points of the extra frame.

Bullets

  • 19,000+ at the TWC tonight!  NICE JOB BOBCATS FANS!  Maybe DR E’s recent crowd pimping really worked.
  • If I had any remaining insecurities about my uber-receding hairline, they are now fully eliminated after seeing HD close-ups of Vince Carter.  Thanks Vince.
  • Raymond didn’t have a great game but his gutsy performance coming off of the ankle sprain was appreciated.  If the team can ink him to a deal of around $6.5 – $7 million per, he’ll be a high value player in the League.
  • As well as Nazr has been playing recently, he still doesn’t punch in those easy 2-footers as consistently or emphatically as Tyson Chandler.  Chandler missed his 14th consecutive game and let’s hope that the team can get something out of him (either on the court or via trade) before the season is over.

Enjoy the Loss Bobcats Fans…

-ASCHIN

Bobcats Fall To Magic in Jackson’s Debut

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Charlotte Bobcats @ Magic, 11/16/09

Signs of Life?

The Bobcats fall on the road to the Orlando Magic tonight, 97-91, to drop to 3-7.  AP recap here, box score here, Bonnell story here.  The Cats actually led this one 52-50 at the half off some hot shooting from Boris Diaw and Flip Murray.  However, a dismal 16-point quarter put them down 8 heading into the final period, and the Cats just don’t have the firepower to mount a 4th quarter comeback of that magnitude against a team the caliber of the Magicians.

Flip Murray’s 31 points tied a career high for him, and represent the best scoring night of any Bobcat thus far this season.  Raymond Felton spent most of the night in foul trouble, and DJ was again ineffective, so Flip played 34 minutes (many while running the point) and filled it up on 13-21 FG, 2-6 3PT.  However, Murray missed a chance keep the Bobcats alive and set a new career high when he missed a couple of free throws in the fourth quarter.

Stephen Jackson had a decent debut for the Bobcats; he started, played 45 minutes, and generally acquitted himself pretty well with 13 points and 9 rebounds.  However, his shot was not falling (4-14 FG, 1-4 3PT, 4-8 FT) — had a few more of those dropped, we might be talking about a pretty special debut.

One of the real benefits that Jackson provided, and will hopefully continue to provide, doesn’t even show up in his numbers, though.  It’s in the numbers of Raymond Felton (6) and Gerald Wallace (5).  What are those numbers, you ask?  Field goal attempts.  With Jackson around, there will be less pressure on Felton and Wallace, two inefficient shooters, to provide scoring.

Bullets

  • Tyson Chandler continues to be disappointing for the Bobcats; got in foul trouble early and only played 24 mins, with 2 points, 4 rebounds.  Nazr continued to play well off the bench; but the Bobcats were most fortunate that Gortat was out for the Magic, who thus went small when Dwight Howard was on the bench and allowed the Cats to go small as well.
  • No one had a huge night for the Magic — but they put 7 guys in double figures in an impressive team performance.
  • No minutes for Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown or Alexis Ajinca tonight; understandable, as LB saw a chance to steal a win and stuck with the veterans.
  • DJ has no confidence out there.  2 points on 1-4 FG in 13 minutes.  His poor start to the year is probably the most under-discussed concerning thing about the Bobcats right now.
  • At this point (of the night, but also of this Bobcats season) I’m out of dramatic adjectives, but here’s the link for interest: Bonnell reports that Iverson’s camp has “reached out” to Larry Brown in the wake of AI and the Grizzlies agreeing to an annulment.  You know what?  At this point, why not?  Maybe it would be the Bobcats “dancing bears and midget car” moment (thanks, “Bobcat orange?”), but I rather agree with my Baseline compadre, ASChin — while the Bobcats are mortgaging their financial future and risking any remaining bit of community goodwill that was based on having “good guys” on the team in order to get to the playoffs, we might as well go down in a blaze of glory.
  • Next game is Wednesday night in Philly to take on the almost-equally disappointing 76ers at 7PM ET.  Won’t be live tweeting due to the early start, but will catch up with the DVR and have a post up here late Wednesday night.

-Dr. E

Charlotte Bobcats vs. Magic 2/20/09

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1.  Bobcats get blown out at the Cable Box by the Magic on Friday night, 92-80.  AP story here, box score here, PopcornMachine.net game flow here.  The Bobcats drop to 22-33; still just 3.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot, but also still with 5 teams to leapfrog to get there.

2.  The team apparently announced a sellout for this Friday night tilt against Dwight Howard and the Magic, but the arena was probably 2/3 full (OK, maybe 3/4, I didn’t look too hard).  Still an impressive crowd to come out and watch a lottery team in the midst of this recession.

Unfortunately, the home team didn’t give the fans much of a reason to get excited  The Cats were dominated in pretty much every aspect of the game by the superior Magic, and were lucky to claw away at the lead a bit late, making the final score somewhat respectable.

3.  Per Bonnell, Larry Brown called out Raymond Felton and DJ Augustin during his postgame comments for taking too many shots at the expense of facilitating the offense (only 8 assists between them).  But let me offer a dissenting opinion (I am a blogger, after all): there was no offense to facilitate.  Seriously, no one else had it going, so naturally, the guys who have the ball in their hands the most are going to eventually take most of the shots.

Check the game flow or the play-by-play: of Raymond’s 18 shots, only 7 were taken before halftime (and 4 were made).  After the half, when it was pretty clear that the Magic were winning this one and the Bobcats weren’t going to be able to offer much resistance, Raymond jacked up 11 more shots (only making two).

Same thing with Augustin: he was 1-2 FG in the first half; 2-9 in the second half.

I’m not trying to completely dispute Brown’s point.  He’s right; it is the PG’s job to facilitate the offense, and if the team can’t get it going, it’s often primarily due to the PG’s inability to facilitate.  (And Raymond is a terrible shooter who shouldn’t be pulling up for 20 footers off of high screens or taking threes more than once or twice a game.)  But against the Magic on Friday night no one else emerged as a viable endpoint to such facilitation.

4.  Without belaboring the point, let’s take a look at some of the other lackluster performances:

Gerald Wallace logged 42 minutes, but scored only 11 points (3-8 FG) and 6 rebounds.  He was very frustrated guarding and being guarded by the Magic’s big forwards (Turkoglu and Lewis); and on the occasion he could get around them, he was met by Howard inside.  (Howard tallied 6 blocks, and significantly affected at least a dozen others.)

In the second half, Wallace aimed all of his frustrated energy not at the Magic, but at the officials.  He took to flailing around, trying to draw fouls every time he fought through a screen and scowling at the refs.  On a couple of occasions, he was lucky to not draw a tech.  Surprisingly, these antics roughly coincided with the Bobcats chipping away at the lead late; but it was too little, too late.  And all the energy directed at the refs would have been better utilized directed towards the Magic in the first half.

Boris Diaw had another underwhelming game, scoring 15 points (5-14 FG) with 8 rebounds and only 2 assists (vs. 3 TOs).  After a strong first few weeks with the team, Diaw has seemingly settled into the kind of uninspired, lackadaisical play that resulted in him being tagged as “overpaid” in recent years.

5.  And I haven’t even mentioned the Bobcats’ defense yet.  The Cats, probably overly concerned with helping down low to prevent Howard from going off like he had on Tuesday night, did a poor job rotating on defense and identifying Turkoglu and Lewis on the perimeter.  When those guys (and the Magic’s other smalls) are playing well, defending the Magic is an exercise in picking your poison.

So the Magic worked their overall offensive gameplan very effectively and efficiently.  Turkoglu had 24 points on only 13 shots; Rashard Lewis had 18 on 5-9 3PT shooting.  Howard only needed to chip in with 13 points.

6.  Overall, the Magic proved that they are a superior team.  Check this quote by newly acquired PG Rafer Alston, who had 8 assists in his first game with the team:

“Everywhere I looked, I had a weapon to pass it to… I think point guards in this league would love to be in that situation.  Everywhere you turn, you’ve got a guy who can flat-out shoot it or can drive it and finish.”

7.  Speaking of Alston, great acquisition by the Magic.  I had advocated trading Felton to Orlando, hoping to get Mickael Pietrus or Courtney Lee back, but wondering if the Magic were desperate enough for PG help to do that.  Clearly they weren’t, as they were able to get Alston (who is a known commodity to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy from their year together in Miami) for a pittance: sending Brian Cook to the Rockets and the pu-pu platter of Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks, their first round draft pick and some cash to the Grizzlies.

Alston will be a servicable starter for the Magic the rest of the season, and will be a capable backup next year at $5 million — and the only asset of consequence they gave up was this year’s draft pick.

8.  One last note: it’s fun to watch a young super-duper-star like Howard become comfortable in his role as such, while not losing sight of what the ultimate goal of playing in the NBA is.  What I mean is that Howard is comfortable putting on a show for a crowd that he knows came to watch him (as evidenced by the alley-oop exhibition in warmups, the good-natured running banter with courtside fans, and throwing his shoes into the crowd after the game); but clearly knows that the point is to win games and eventually, a championship.  He has improved his game every year, is a good teammate, and plays the game “the right way” in general.

9.  Next game is Sunday afternoon at 5:00 ET in Houston, as the Bobcats embark on a 5-game/7-day Western Conference road trip.  As 5-game Western Conference road trips go, this one isn’t too bad, with Houston, Phoenix, Sacramento, Golden State and the LA Clippers on the docket.

If you’re still holding out hope for the 8th playoff spot, you’re wanting a 3-2 road trip, which is totally possible.

-E

Charlotte Bobcats vs. Magic 11/16/08

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1. Bobcats lose 90-85 to the visiting Magic tonight, dropping to 3-6 in the process.  AP story here, box score here.  The two storylines to the game are encapsulated by the picture choices above.

2. Same starting lineup tonight as on Friday night: Felton, Carroll, Wallace, May, Okafor.  May only played 13 minutes though – he still has a lot of rust to knock off.

3. The Cats played excellent defense in the first half – in particular, the rotations were crisp and aggressive, and Okafor did a nice job on Howard.  Emeka emphatically blocked one of Superman’s short hook attempts in a reversal of their usual roles.  Pietrus and Lewis kept Orlando afloat, while Wallace paced the Bobcats.  Morrison had back-to-back crowd-pleasing 3 pointers early in the second quarter, while Felton and Wallace connected on a great alley-oop later on to keep the buzz going.  43-38 Cats at the break.

4. The good defense on Howard would continue the rest of the evening, as he ended the game with only 4 points – all on free throws.  That’s right – not one field goal for D-Ho.  Pretty amazing.  Additionally, the Bobcats attacked him on the other end and kept him in foul trouble all night.  Despite the officials best attempts to observe the superstar code with Howard, he eventually fouled out with a few minutes left in the game.  Line: 26 mins, 4 points on 0-3 FG, 4-6 FT, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 5 blocks.  OK, so he still contributed with those “hustle stats”, but overall you’re never going to see that poor of a game from D-Ho again.

5. On the other hand, the Bobcats had no answer for Hedo Turkoglu in the second half.  With Gerald Wallace occupied with Rashard Lewis most of the night, and Larry Brown desperate for an offensive spark, Adam Morrison spent a lot of time at the other forward spot guarding Turkoglu.  Turkoglu ended with “just” 20 points on 6-15 FG (8-9 FT), but for much of the second half, he just owned Morrison on both ends of the floor.  Tough matchup for Morrison, as he can usually make up for his lack of speed/quickness with his height/length; but Turkoglu at 6’10” negates that.

6. Would’ve been nice to have had J-Rich tonight, as the Bobcats just couldn’t get any sustained offensive threat going.  Matt Carroll was not really able to show much in the few extra minutes of PT he got tonight (or on Friday night, for that matter).

7. I hate to bring this up, because a) it’s beating a dead horse, b) it’s totally understandable, and c) I certainly don’t miss it anyways, but I have to mention that the Bobcats have not any halftime entertainment at any of the games I’ve been to.  I missed the home opener, so I can’t comment on that one, but ever since they’ve just trotted out the drumline or had the dance team do a routine.  No Chinese lady on a unicycle flipping bowls onto her head; no muscled up, homoerotic, balancing-on-each-other Russian male gymnasts; no frisbee-catching stunt dogs; not even any trampoline dunkers.

Tonight was actually kinda painful, as they didn’t even have the drummers or the dancers out there, and it was up to the arena announcer and cameramen to entertain.  The cameramen found people wearing paraphenalia from various teams and the crowd responded accordingly (Duke = boos, UNC = cheers, Davidson = cheers, Panthers = cheers, Falcons = boos).  So again, I can totally understand not paying for any visiting entertainment, and I don’t miss the local gymnastics school’s tumbling routine, but I do have to wonder: is this happening at other NBA arenas this year?  Not every franchise is hurting as much as the Bobcats, right?

8. Must read link from last week that, inexplicably, I never got around to posting and commenting on.  It’s from the Wages of Wins blog, commenting on the dilemma that non-stars in the NBA find themselves in, using Shannon Brown and the rest of the Bobcats as an example.

9. Latest Bobcats personnel rumor: we’re considering bringing on Jamaal Tinsley if/when he gets bought out by the Pacers.  First it was Eddy Curry, then Sean Williams, now Jamaal Tinsley.  I’m beginning to think that Larry Brown/Rod Higgins motto is: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, your castoffs and ne’er-do-wells.”  ‘Cept that none of these dudes are very poor.

And the best part is, to get to that rumor in the link, you have to page down past the story of Robin Lopez’s excellent showing in his first start of the season.  Yep, the same Robin Lopez that the Bobcats were set to draft before cowtowing to Larry Brown’s request to pick DJ Augustin.

10. Next game: Tuesday night at home, hosting the Mavs at 7:00 to wrap up the home stand.  Would it be sacrilege to bust out my Dirk jersey for this one?

-E

UPDATE: Thanks to the commenter below for pointing out my mistake.  In item #9 above, I meant Brook Lopez, not Robin.