Despite having only nine players available, the Orlando Magic cruised to an easy win against the visiting Charlotte Bobcats, 89-77, behind an effortless 26 points from Dwight Howard. Injury and illness depleted Orlando to a near-comical degree, forcing it to play small forward Hedo Turkoglu at point guard and to actually use emergency center Malik Allen for just the 14th time this season.
To be fair, Charlotte was also missing key players. Leading scorer Stephen Jackson sat, as did shot-blocking sixth man Tyrus Thomas and reserve point guard Shaun Livingston. With neither team anywhere near full strength or shooting particularly well, the game resembled a scrimmage or a summer-league game. Dante Cunningham, acquired midseason from the Portland Trail Blazers, was the lone bright spot for the Bobcats. The second-year forward scored a career-best 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting and was darn near automatic spotting up from the wings or short corners.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Charlotte's problem, even with Jackson in the lineup, is its lack of offense. It simply doesn't have enough shot-creation to really compete on that end, instead relying on the likes of D.J. Augustin and Boris Diaw to get hot from the field. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Bobcats had nothing doing against Orlando's third-ranked defense. Apart from losing track of Cunningham on the weak side a few times, it's hard to argue with the Magic's work on that end tonight. They held the Bobcats to below their miserable season averages in each of the Four Factors, though the caveats about Charlotte's injuries apply here; with Jackson or even Thomas around, the Magic's defensive effort tonight may not have been enough. We'll never know.
I'd say Orlando did about what it had to--and no more--offensively to keep the Bobcats in a hole. The Magic shot a poor percentage (42.3 percent from the field overall, 31 percent on threes), but moved the ball well enough to create open looks. And they featured Howard like they should every night. Kwame Brown simply couldn't stop Howard inside, and he's the only healthy Bobcat with enough size to at least make Howard uncomfortable. When Howard easily backed him in, spun, and dunked in the first quarter, you got the idea it'd be a long night for Brown. (Later, Allen would block a jump-hook attempt of his on his lone post-up of the game).
Orlando's energy and attention fluctuated all night, but it still played well enough to win or tie every quarter. The Bobcats never found a way to get open looks, and thus drew no closer than to within five points after halftime.
It's worth noting the Magic found a way to get to the foul line tonight: drive relentlessly, and often recklessly. The Magic don't shoot many free throws, despite Howard's presence, because their wings tend to think pass-first on their drives, or are otherwise standstill shooters. Quentin Richardson, logging 33 minutes off the bench, changed it up. He shot just 3-of-11 from the floor--dropping his season-long field goal percentage to 34.9--but earned eight first-half free throws by putting the ball on the floor and looking for his own shot. He finished with an inefficient, but nonetheless needed, 14 points.
In a way, this game means nothing for Orlando. It's essentially locked in to the East's fourth seed, but it's not as though it can use its remaining schedule to tune up for the postseason. The Magic's reserve backcourt of Gilbert Arenas (flu-like symptoms) and J.J. Redick (abdominal strain) is out, forcing coach Stan Van Gundy to play lineups he likely won't need in the playoffs.