Although this playoff pairing has looked fairly certain for a while now, last night's NBA results have made it almost entirely inevitable: the Orlando Magic appear to be bound to host the Charlotte Bobcats when the NBA playoffs begin next weekend. Here's why:
Orlando has clinched the East's second playoff spot. The Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are currently tied for eighth and neither can advance higher than that, which eliminates them as possible Quarterfinals opponents. And the Milwaukee Bucks' victory against the Philadelphia 76ers last night assures that they will finish no worse than sixth. Thus, Charlotte and the Miami Heat are the only two teams that can finish in the seventh position.
Miami has a two-game edge on Charlotte, and both teams have three games remaining, with Charlotte owning the head-to-head tiebreaker should they finish with identical records. But Miami faces an easier schedule, with Atlantic Division doormats New York, Phiadelphia, and New Jersey remaining. Charlotte's road is also easy, but not quite so: Detroit, New Jersey, and Chicago are still on the docket. The Bobcats' best hope is to win two of three, while praying that Miami drops two of three, which doesn't seem likely.
Now, these sorts of exercises are far from precise, and nothing that happens in the last week of the NBA season will shock me. At around this time last year, I wrote that the Magic would likely draw Chicago in the first round; just over 24 hours later, I posted the Magic's first-round playoff schedule against Philadelphia in between bites of crow, as the Bulls' improbable loss to Toronto, coupled with Philly's surprising win in Cleveland, locked-in a Magic/76ers first-round pairing. The rest, as they say, is history.
I'll hold off on any analysis of Charlotte/Orlando matchup until it becomes official, but it suffices to say that the Magic stand a better chance against a team making its first-ever playoff appearance than they do against one with a recent Finals MVP. I have a lot of respect for the Bobcats and what coach Larry Brown has managed to do with them in his first year at the helm, but in no way do they present the same threat that a Miami squad with Dwyane Wade does, no matter how great their defense is. A poll of the OPP community Eddy conducted last month shows that most of y'all agree with me, as 39% of you said Miami would be the worst first-round matchup for Orlando.
The Magic won the season series, 3-1, against the Bobcats this year. They went 2-2 against Miami, which joins Cleveland as owning the distinction of defeating the Magic twice this season.