The Orlando Magic will try to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Series when they take on the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena, hosting a postseason contest for the first time in history. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy wants his team to avoid a letdown, and his research has shown him that 32 of the last 47 teams to take 2-0 series leads wound up losing Game 3. That trend has continued this season, with the L.A. Lakers falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Ford Center and the Cleveland Cavaliers dropping a game to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. And "The Cable Box"--really, this nickname needs to catch on--has been unkind to visitors this year. Well, most visitors; Orlando was the only team to beat the Bobcats twice at the Cable Box this season and has won its last 4 games there overall. And while the Bobcats believe playing at home will make a huge difference, coach Larry Brown cautions them about taking improvement for granted: "Just because we're going home, we can't assume we're going to have a better start," he said.
|2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals|
|Orlando Leads, 2-0|
|April 24th, 2010|
|Time Warner Cable Arena|
|TNT / Sun Sports|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Raymond Felton|
|Vince Carter||SG||Stephen Jackson|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Gerald Wallace|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Boris Diaw|
|Dwight Howard||C||Theo Ratliff|
|April 18th: Magic 98, Bobcats 89|
|April 21st: Magic 92, Bobcats 77|
The biggest key for the Magic in this game is to stick with it. The Bobcats have led for a grand total of 18 seconds in this series, but they're dangerous nonetheless. It wouldn't surprise me if they jumped out to a 20-7 lead, or something like that, and forced Van Gundy to burn a few timeouts. The Bobcats will play more confidently and make more runs at home, and Orlando can't let itself get caught off guard. Counting the first 2 games of this series, the Magic have won 22 of their last 25 games. They fought hard during the last several months to earn homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals, if they get there, and they achieved that goal. So there's no sense in letting up now. Or ever. That's the message I'm sure Van Gundy has hammered home during the Magic's two days off.
But what are the keys on the court itself, and outside the players' heads? As always, it's important to dig in defensively and force the Bobcats to take jumpers. The Magic can't let Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, and Raymond Felton drive the lane on each possession. And on offense, execution is key. Charlotte's a great defensive team, but has yet to find an answer for the Magic's pick-and-roll game in this series. Keep exploiting that, and they'll be fine.
Tom Sorenson of the Charlotte Observer is absolutely right when he writes that another Bobcat must assert himself offensively to aid Wallace and Jackson, who've scored 85 of Charlotte's 166 points in this series. My feeling is that role-players tend to play better at home, so there's a greater chance of that happening this afternoon. The player who really ought to concern the Magic is backup point guard D.J. Augustin, who led an ultimately futile Bobcats comeback effort against Orlando in January with three key three-pointers, and five overall. The Magic have struggled to contain small, quick guards with three-point range this season, which makes Augustin a top candidate to break out today. Larry Hughes dropped 40 on the Magic two seasons ago--it's true, I assure you--but has broken double-figures in scoring just once since then. Also, he's been so bad that Bobcats fans are clamoring for Brown to de-activate him and promote rookie Gerald Henderson.
Tip's at 2.