The Orlando Magic have played well in each of their last 3 games and have won their last 2, but one can't help but feel like they might be walking into a buzzsaw tonight when they visit the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bobcats have dominated their opponents at the Cable Box, with an 18-4 record and +8.0 average differential there. And since acquiring Stephen Jackson in November, they've even more unstoppable at home, with a 15-2 record and a +9.5 average differential. Contrast that with the once-resilient Magic, who won 8 straight road games this year but have dropped 9 of their last 11 since then. Coach Larry Brown has the Bobcats playing exceptional basketball, especially defensively, where they're first in efficiency and rank no worse than 8th in any of the Four Factors, Kevin Arnovitz has more on Charlotte's D here. Working in Orlando's favor tonight is the likely absence of starting point guard Raymond Felton, who sprained his left ankle last night against Atlanta and had to leave. Top rebounder and likely All-Star Gerald Wallace aggravated a hamstring injury, but he's probable to play tonight.
|2009/2010 NBA Season
|January 23rd, 2010
|Time Warner Cable Arena
|Fox Sports Florida
|November 10th: Magic 93, Bobcats 81
|November 16th: Magic 97, Bobcats 91
Charlotte lost to the Hawks last night, and it might be tempting to attribute the setback to the fact that the Bobcats played on the road, as they dropped to 3-16 away from the Cable Box, the fourth-worst road record in the league. However, it seems like the Bobcats just kinda beat themselves. Queen City Hoops writes that 11 of the Bobcats' 17 turnovers last night--in a low-possession game, mind you--were unforced. Rick Bonnell points out that the 17 turnovers resulted in "nearly a third" of Atlanta's total offense. Get Charlotte in an open-floor game, and it might struggle to defend; get in a halfcourt game with it, and, well... good luck.
The Bobcats' 26th-ranked offense is what holds them back from being a real threat in the Eastern Conference. While they lead the league in turnover creation on one end, they darn near bring up the rear in the same category at the other. They're mistake-prone, which Orlando can exploit. I don't think I can emphasize the Magic's need to run against Charlotte enough. So what if Wallace snuffs a few of your fast-break layups from behind? It's easier to score against a team transitioning from offense to defense than it is to do so against one that's had time to set itself. Force D.J. Augustin--likely to start in Felton's place--Jackson, and Wallace into making mistakes, because they will. Don't fall in love with shooting the three-pointer, though: the Bobcats defend the three better than every team save for the Lakers and the Knicks, and they manage to sucker their opponents into taking a lot of threes, 20.5 per game, to be precise. We know Orlando gets three-point-happy when it has a lead. Don't play into the Bobcats' hands: use a more balanced offensive attack and hope for the best, really.
Charlotte's Ronald Murray is really the Bobcat to watch tonight. Although Augustin figures to start in Felton's stead, Murray will see plenty of minutes at point guard. He's not much of a distributor, but that's okay, because he's made a decent career out of scoring like crazy. He matched a career-high in scoring with 31 points against Orlando earlier this year, though Orlando won in spite of its inability to keep him from scoring. Small, shoot-first guards have punished the Magic time and again this season. Jameer Nelson, Jason Williams, and (probably) Mickael Pietrus will be tasked with stopping Murray. They should approach him the same way Dwight Howard did Roy Hibbert earlier this week. After Hibbert erupted for a career-high 26 points against him, Howard took it upon himself to shut Hibbert down, which he did. Hibbert did not make a single field goal and finished with 3 points.
Tip's at 7. Winning in Charlotte ain't easy, so we might learn something about the Magic tonight.