To longtime readers of this site, Eddy Rivera needs no introduction. For over a year he posted regularly here, until moving on to the TrueHoop Network to launch MagicBasketball.net less than a week ago. Eddy and I exchanged emails to preview the Orlando Magic's playoff series against the Charlotte Bobcats, which produced this q-and-a. I think I speak for Eddy when I say we both hope to collaborate again soon.
Ben Q. Rock: You asked me in the first part of this exchange about the Magic's rotation, and I responded that I expect Brandon Bass, not Ryan Anderson, to get the call as Rashard Lewis' backup at power forward against Charlotte. In the most recent meeting, Bass played 17 minutes--some of them alongside Lewis, who shifted to small forward--while Anderson logged a DNP-CD, which I suspect has a lot to do with Charlotte's deadline-day acquisition of Tyrus Thomas. Bass is a better physical match for Thomas than Anderson is. But how do you see this dynamic playing out in this series?
Eddy Rivera: I think it could go either way, to be honest.
It might, ultimately, be determined by what the Orlando Magic need on the court at that moment in time. I know that the debate between Anderson and Bass has been a hot topic among Magic fans all year and people have strong feelings for one player or the other, but the point is that they both can help Orlando in this series. You already mentioned how Bass can matchup with Thomas off the bench but if the Magic need scoring as well as someone not named Rashard Lewis that can stretch the floor at power forward, and I suspect they'll need it at some point, Anderson might get the call in that scenario. You and I both know what Anderson is capable of on offense and ever since he was re-inserted into the rotation late in the regular season, it seems like he can't miss a shot sometimes.
I guess my answer to the question jives with head coach Stan Van Gundy's mentality for these type of things -- it'll come down to the matchups.
BQR: Conventional wisdom holds that rotations shorten in the playoffs, which actually hurts "deep" teams and helps those with shallow benches. Orlando's bench is almost inarguably stronger than Charlotte's, though at least one Bobcats blogger is convinced that the likes of Larry Hughes and D.J. Augustin could play J.J. Redick and Jason Williams to a draw. But it's playoff time, so the game changes a bit. Will the Bobcats' bench outplay the Magic's in this series, or will the Magic's 1-through-11 talent prove to be the exception to the rule?
ER: The assertion that D.J. Augustin and Larry Hughes can play J.J. Redick and Jason Williams to a draw is absurd.
As for the actual question, I'd be shocked if the bench for the Charlotte Bobcats outplayed Orlando's reserves. No disrespect to the Bobcats' bench, which has some decent players that head coach Larry Brown can rely on, but there's no comparison whatsoever.
I think it's safe to say, barring something unforeseen, the Magic's bench will prove to be the exception to the rule.
BQR: Occam's Razor holds that the simplest explanation is the best explanation. The Magic are pretty heavily favored in this series, I believe, for this key reason: both Orlando and Charlotte have elite defenses, which cancel each other out. The difference between the teams is that Orlando has an elite offense as well, while Charlotte has the second-worst offense of any team still standing; congratulations, Chicago! Thus, the Magic's superior offense will carry them to a series win. Kevin Pelton articulated that line of thinking more clearly in his preview for Basketball Prospectus. Is that view, that the defenses cancel each other out, valid? Or is there another component that we haven't considered there?
ER: It's valid.
I've had the fortune of being able to cover the two games Charlotte played Orlando at the Amway Arena during the regular season so I got a first-hand look at the matchup and they were both very competitive games, despite the fact that the Bobcats struggled to score sometimes. I've been trying to find an angle in Charlotte's favor that would suggest to me that they have a better chance at winning the series than currently projected but I can't find it. That's no knock on the Bobcats. The Magic are just really good.
In my opinion, this matchup is about as cut-and-dry as it gets. Charlotte will be at the doorstep in every game, with a chance to win, but Orlando's offense is ultimately going to be the difference in the series. The Magic may not score as much as they usually do, given that the Bobcats have the best defense in the NBA based on Defensive Rating, but they'll score enough to win games. And in the end, that's all that matters.
BQR: You've picked Orlando to win in 5 games, which seems to be the most popular prediction of the sites I've surveyed to date; my pick, Magic in 6, seems to be the next-most common. And I've yet to read anyone predicting a Charlotte upset. The point here is that no one really expects too much of the Bobcats in this series. The odds are heavily against them. With all that out of the way, what, say, three things would have to happen in order for the Bobcats to send the Magic home early?
ER: Great question. I quickly looked back at the game logs for Orlando to refresh my memory and these seemed to be some of the major factors for why they would lose games. I'm deliberately keeping my explanation simple for the sake of brevity. This is what Charlotte needs to happen:
1. The Magic's bench doesn't score a ton of points.
2. There's a lack of production from any one of the four All-Stars -- Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson.
3. Howard gets in foul trouble almost every game.
If any combination of these three things happen for nearly the entire series, the Bobcats have a chance to pull off the upset. Basically, a good example is this ... the Magic would have to play like they did during their January swoon to risk a chance of losing in the first round.
Many thanks to Eddy for his time and consideration. Again, you can check out his new digs at MagicBasketball.net.