Thanks to balanced scoring and mostly good defense, the Orlando Magic defeated the Charlotte Bobcats, 93-81, to bump their record to a respectable 6-2 even with early season injury woes. Dwight Howard and Vince Carter, making his return from a sprained ankle, led the Magic with 15 points apiece; Howard also contributed team-highs with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 turnovers. Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus rounded out the Magic's double-figure-scoring, with 14 and 12, respectively. Charlotte's Raymond Felton led all scorers with 18 points.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
The story out of this game on most Magic fans' minds is Carter's performance after a long layoff. He hadn't played a full game since opening night, and hadn't appeared at all in exactly a week, when he tried to play through the pain in a loss at Detroit, which didn't work out for him. In any case, Carter came off the bench and looked great early, but his rust showed as the game wore on. He missed 11 of his 16 shots, and rarely looked to drive the ball to the basket. However, when he did charge to the rim, he did so assertively. The only time his soreness became apparent came midway through the fourth quarter, when he tried to throw a jump-pass to Matt Barnes off his left foot and grimaced afterward. But if you had simply shown me the game film, I would have just said Vince had an off-night, and would not have been able to discern with any degree of certainty that he had missed any time. Which bodes well for Orlando going forward.
Taking a step back, it's hard to know what to make of this game, since Charlotte's skill heavily tilts toward the defensive end; as I mentioned in the game preview, Charlotte's D ranks 3rd in the league, but its offense is dead last. If you choose to look at the game from a positive standpoint, you'll acknowledge that the Magic bested the Bobcats' usual defensive efficiency, while holding its putrid offense to just below its league-worst average, and did so without two rotation-caliber players.
If you take a more pessimistic view, you'll look at the third quarter, in which the Bobcats erupted for 30 points en route to slicing what had been a 20-point Magic lead to 6 entering the fourth quarter. And in that quarter, the Magic seemed a step slower to reach each loose ball, and to close out on the Bobcats' shooters. The rebounding differential, which was fairly comfortably in Orlando's favor during the first half, swung back to Charlotte. Just an ugly quarter for Orlando, which looked every bit like a mid-tier team that'd have to scrap and claw just to reach the playoffs.
But then, switching back to the good news, Orlando buckled down in the fourth quarter. The offense continued to wane--the Magic's scoring decreased in each quarter--but the defense was much more active and intelligent, and yielded only 10 points to the Bobcats, or one-third their output from the previous quarter. That's an impressive swing for a defense that's struggled for most of the season, and something on which to build.
We should acknowledge the strong play of some of the Magic's less-heralded players. Bass scored 12 of his season-high 14 points in the first quarter, missing none of his 6 attempts. Perhaps owing to his less-than-stellar individual defense--although he did record one blocked shot tonight--he only played 9:45 after the first period, but his ability to drain mid-range jumpers keyed the Magic's hot first quarter. Marcin Gortat, who's had a spotty season so far, chipped in with 6 points, 5 boards, and 4 blocks in only 17 minutes.
A note on Dwight Howard's passing: it looks much better this season, and his 6 assists tonight attest to that refinement in his game. Having Matt Barnes on the team has helped him immensely, as he's always been at his best hitting cutters to the hoop, most notably Maurice Evans two seasons ago. Barnes cuts even better than Evans did, and Dwight's very quick to pick up on Barnes' movement when his defender leaves him to double Howard. And although he finished with 5 turnovers tonight, only 2 of them were off bad passes. The Magic will take a 3:1 assist:bad pass ratio from their franchise center any night, and especially against the league's fifth-best turnover-forcing team.
As a final note, how bad must Gerald Wallace feel right now? He played a decent enough game, with 13 points, 9 boards, and 3 steals, but he also blew three dunks in this game. Add those 6 points to the Bobcats' total, and they would have been in much better shape. They lucked out, though, since the Magic got 0 points on possessions ensuing after Wallace's missed dunks: a missed jumper by Jameer Nelson, an offensive foul by Dwight Howard, and a missed jumper by Bass.
Overall, the Magic are nowhere near where they need to be. What we saw on the floor tonight was not championship-caliber basketball, but it was still good basketball, and it showed promise. If the defense continues to improve--and it showed flashes tonight--the Magic should return to form as an elite team, as I have no doubt that the offense will maintain its high level of play, and maybe improve, once Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson return to the floor.