As the Orlando Magic await their next opponent in the NBA playoffs, OPP glances back at their first-round series with the Charlotte Bobcats to review some key storylines.
When I previewed the Orlando Magic's first-round series against the Charlotte Bobcats, I didn't think their second unit would get topped. Any reasonable NBA analyst would concede that Orlando has one of the deepest teams in the league, and that Charlotte doesn't quite measure up in that area. When I asked Eddy about that topic in the half of the discussion I hosted, he said, "The assertion that D.J. Augustin and Larry Hughes can play J.J. Redick and Jason Williams to a draw is absurd." I agreed with him.
I got this one wrong. The Bobcats' bench outscored the Magic's, 116-86, in the series, which is huge, considering Orlando held a +37 margin overall. Submit that second margin as evidence that the Magic's starting lineup is among the league's best if you like, but don't let that fact obscure this one: Orlando's reserves, save for Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, played poorly. I mean, I hate to disagree with John Denton, who writes that the first-round series "affirmed" the belief that Orlando has the deepest team in the league, but I do. Here's my brief take on the Magic's bench in this series.
Had Jameer Nelson not exploded in this series for 23.8 points on 64.7% True Shooting, we'd be hearing more about how dreadful Williams was. A rock who appeared in each of Orlando's 82 regular season games, Williams really lagged in the series against Charlotte. He played just 11.8 minutes per due largely to Nelson's hot hand, but he was disastrous in limited minutes. Missing 6 of his 7 shots--including one in Game 4 that went long and to the left, crashing hard off the back iron--and tallying just 2 assists in 47 minutes? That sort of drop-off from Nelson isn't going to get it done in the later rounds. Williams isn't here to score, but he does need to push the pace and get Orlando into its offense. He did neither against Charlotte. In committing just 1 turnover, he limited the damage to an extent. But we can't expect Nelson to keep throwing flames as the playoffs progress, and as a result, Williams will have to improve. Big time. Of all the Magic's backups, Williams is the one whose performance merits the most attention going forward. Maybe his 34-year-old body is struggling to keep going after the first 82-game season of his career.
Like Williams, Redick played in each of Orlando's games this season. And, like Williams, he struggled a bit in the first round. 62.2% True Shooting is encouraging, especially in light of the struggles Vince Carter, whom he backs up, endured. But he didn't take care of the ball as well as he did early in the season, and even accounting for the Bobcats' ball-hawking defensive scheme, that's no good. And he can't continue to shoo 28.6% from the outside if Orlando hopes to march to the title. Pietrus, Nelson, Matt Barnes, and Rashard Lewis carried the Magic from beyond the arc in the first round, but Orlando will need more from Redick. He can't let guys like Hughes outplay him.
With that said, he did lead the Magic with 7 fourth-quarter points in Game 1 to help halt the Bobcats' rally.
I wrote about Pietrus' hot shooting yesterday, and I'm not sure there's much else to say about him. He played masterfully against the Bobcats. He's as dialed in as I've ever seen him. All 10 of his baskets came from three-point range, including two crucial ones in the fourth quarter of Game 4 which all but took Charlotte out of the game. He might need to be a bit more aggressive in driving the lane, as he attempted just 2 two-pointers in 75 minutes, but the way he's shooting right now, there's little reason to ask him to do anything differently.
Defensively? Still Orlando's strongest on the wing; Barnes is a bit overrated in that area, I fear, due to his more physical style.
Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass
Another aspect of the Bobcats series I was proven wrong about was which power forward coach Stan Van Gundy would use in relief of Lewis. I figured Bass, with his athleticism, matched up better with Bobcats backup four-man Tyrus Thomas than Anderson did, and thus that Bass would get the call. Instead, Van Gundy went with Anderson in order to spread the floor against the Bobcats' swarming, paint-packing defense. It was the right move, but Anderson struggled in his limited minutes. Sinking 3 of his 6 attempts from beyond the arc works fine, but he's going to have to finish more than 25% of his layups and dunks in the later rounds. Some of those misses were bad bounces, ones that he'd like to have back, but there's still cause for concern. On the plus side, he grabbed 16.2% of available rebounds when on the court, second only to Dwight Howard on the team.
Bass? He made a two-minute cameo in Game 3 and did nothing. Just a two-trillion on the books in Bass' brief Magic playoff career, and he probably won't see significant minutes until the Conference Finals, if Orlando gets there, due to the personnel the Magic's potential second-round opponents have.
A big reason for Orlando's sweep of Charlotte simply because he did his job and got out of the way; his 60% field-goal shooting and 1 turnover the entire series attest to that. A modest average line of 3.8 points, 5.3 boards, and 0.5 blocks for Gortat in 21.5 minutes per game, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Magic slightly outplayed the Bobcats with him on the floor, posting a +5 differential in 86 minutes. How many teams can manage to stay afloat with their star player unavailable for such a long time? Not many. On a per-minute basis, the Magic would like to see more boards and blocks from their backup center, but they've got to be happy with his performance in the first round. Everything in his performance except for the foul-line jumper he launched too early in the shot clock in Game 4, that is.
Looking back, I suppose you could say everyone played the way they should have, except for Williams. I can't help but shake the feeling that he peaked very early in the season. Sure, he'll improve--he's not going to go the entire playoffs without making a three-pointer--but he probably won't find that extra gear that he had in December, January, and February.