Charlotte Bobcats 96, Orlando Magic 89

In a potential first-round playoff preview, the opportunistic Charlotte Bobcats exploited the Orlando Magic's lack of rest and depth and ended Orlando's 8-game winning streak Sunday night by a final of 96-89. Stephen Jackson tallied a game-high 28 points and dished 6 assists for Charlotte, whose offense rolled along despite the absence of All-Star small forward Gerald Wallace. Orlando's Dwight Howard shot 12-of-14 for 27 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, while Vince Carter tallied 23 points and 6 assists, and spot-starter Mickael Pietrus drained 5 three-pointers en route to a 20-point outing. But those 3 players proved to be Orlando's only reliable scorers, and the Bobcats handily outrebounded the Magic, 46-34, to win rather impressively.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Bobcats 86 111.8 50.0% 28.0 32.4 17.5
Magic 84 106.3 53.5% 16.7 20.9 17.9
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Tonight's game was the third in four nights for the Magic, who'd played less than 24 hours earlier in Washington, D.C. The lack of energy was especially apparent early, with the Bobcats moving the ball around the perimeter and getting wide-open looks on nearly every possession, when they weren't busy turning the ball over, as is their wont. The Magic can't blame a lack of rest for this loss, though. As coach Stan Van Gundy said, "we weren't very good at anything today." Howard added, "You never want to use fatigue as an excuse because we’re NBA players and we train to do our jobs, but we were a little tired."

In these sorts of short-rest situations, reserve players have to take on additional responsibility. At home, the Magic's bench should have been able to best Charlotte's, which is among the weakest in the league in terms of talent. With Pietrus in the starting lineup, the bench lacked its usual spark. J.J. Redick missed 4 of his 6 shots and didn't shoot any free throws; ditto for Jason Williams, though he at least managed to sink two three-pointers. Brandon Bass looked oddly tentative all day and missed all of his shot attempts as well. A discouraging performance from a usually solid group.

I think the Bobcats had the right idea in this game: attack the Magic's tired defense. Jackson and point guard Raymond Felton had their way with Orlando's backcourt, combining for 44 points on 32 shots thanks to 13 free-throw attempts. Charlotte was the more aggressive team. Even Howard, usually a stout defender in all circumstances, had his problems, twice losing track of Theo Ratliff on his rolls to the hoop, which resulted in a slam for the 36-year-old veteran both times. Orlando's defense is among the best in the league, while the Bobcats' offense is among the worst. Even accounting for the lack of rest, Orlando should have been able to limit Charlotte more.

If you're looking for a positive, it has to be Carter, who continues to play extremely well. Calm and in-control, Carter asserted himself early and never really let up. This locked-in version of Carter is the one Orlando had in mind when it traded for him, and the one they hope to have in the postseason. His off-ball defense can still use some work--I know Stephen Graham's not a world-beater, but you've got to honor his shot more than that, but overall, Carter's been tremendous.

This loss is one the Magic should be able to shake off, especially after beating the Bobcats in the first three meetings; as Magic TV play-by-play man David Steele said, it's hard to beat a good team four times in one season. Orlando was not up to that task today, which is disappointing but not necessarily alarming. What's becoming a problem, though, is Rashard Lewis' recent stretch of horrid play. The twelfth-year forward grabbed just 11 rebounds in 110 minutes last week, averaged 6.8 points per game on 45.2% True Shooting, and struggled defensively. He's far, far below replacement level right now, and Van Gundy's lamented his lack of energy of late, too. This slump is something that bears watching going forward.

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