The Orlando Magic can clinch a playoff spot and tie a team record with their 9th straight win if they defeat the Charlotte Bobcats tonight in what could be a playoff preview of sorts. I say "of sorts" because All-Star small forward Gerald Wallace will sit out with a sprained left ankle, and he'd most assuredly play a big role in a potential first-round matchup. Additionally, the recently signed Larry Hughes is recovering from a hand injury suffered earlier this season with the Knicks and will not be available for at least a week. So essentially the Bobcats are spotting the Magic two rotation players today. But will that advantage lead to a franchise record-tying win?
UPDATE: Orlando's Matt Barnes is day-to-day with a sprained left big toe and won't play tonight. Mickael Pietrus will start in his place. Barnes had yet to miss a game this year.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|33-31 (9-23 away)
|47-20 (27-6 home)
|March 14th, 2010|
|Fox Sports Florida|
|Raymond Felton||PG||Jameer Nelson|
|Stephen Jackson||SG||Vince Carter|
|Stephen Graham||SF||Mickael Pietrus|
|Boris Diaw||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|Theo Ratliff||C||Dwight Howard|
|November 10th: Magic 93, Bobcats 81|
|November 16th: Magic 97, Bobcats 91|
|January 23rd: Magic 106, Bobcats 95 (OT)|
|90.7 (26th)||Pace||92.6 (16th)|
|103.8 (25th)||ORtg||110.0 (8th)|
|102.7 (5th)||DRtg||102.6 (4th)|
As Tom Ziller writes, the Bobcats' margin for error without Wallace is "minuscule", largely because he's among the few players on the team who can score. Stephen Jackson, Raymond Felton, and even struggling second-year guard D.J. Augustin will have to assume more responsibility on offense, which is where the Bobcats are weakest. Charlotte's just one-tenth of a point per 100 possessions worse than Orlando on D, which is why they could be dangerous in the playoffs. With Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, and DeSagana Diop up front, the Bobcats have three defenders who can handle Dwight Howard reasonably well one-on-one, which in turn helps them cover the Magic's shooters. This strategy worked in the last meeting, albeit with different personnel checking Howard, as he scored just 10 points.
So it again looks like Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter will have to step up for Orlando to win this one. Otherwise, given the Bobcats' iffy offense, we could see a score somewhere in the 86-80 range, which favors Charlotte. Without Wallace, the Bobcats' perimeter defense weakens, which is why Carter should be especially aggressive.