Led by Dwight Howard early and Rashard Lewis late, the Orlando Magic held on to defeat the rather pesky Charlotte Bobcats, 91-88, on Saturday night. Charlotte trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, but staged a fourth-quarter rally, drawing to within a single point with 32 seconds to play on Stephen Jackson's coast-to-coast layup. The Magic milked the clock on their ensuing possession, and without Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson to initiate, looked disjointed. But Quentin Richardson found a seam in Charlotte's defense, flipping in a lefty layup with 9.8 seconds to play for the game's final points. Carter went down three possessions prior when he slipped trying to put the moves on Jackson just beyond midcourt, where Jackson had flopped on an earlier possession trying to earn a foul call. The floor was never mopped up, much to coach Stan Van Gundy's chagrin--he earned a technical foul call for tearing into the officials about the condition of the floor--and Carter went down. Though the Magic will certainly take the victory, and are glad to see Lewis return to form, they can't feel good about letting a big lead slip away against a club of Charlotte's caliber, and they should probably be even more concerned about Carter's injury.
|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.
Orlando started the game by feeding Howard at every opportunity, and he delivered. It's a sound strategy; the Bobcats have struggled to defend the post this season, and on the second night of a back-to-back set, relying on perimeter offense to put them over the top could have been dicey. Howard fought for position, his teammates tried to find him inside, and then he went to work. He scored 11 of the Magic's first 13 points, but his role in the offense diminished as the game wore on, with Bobcats coach Larry Brown electing to send double-teams at Howard to force the ball out of his hands.
Not a bad tactic by Brown, but Lewis undermined it. Entering the game shooting 31.9 percent from the floor and 20 percent from three-point range, Lewis caught fire, tying Howard with a team-best 22 points and sinking five three-pointers. His biggest? On the Magic's first possession without Carter, he found nothing but the bottom from the left corner to give the Magic a 6-point lead with 1:25 to play; somehow, the Bobcats managed to leave the sharpshooter open on a crucial possession. Credit goes to Richardson for not forcing up a contested shot in the immediate basket area and finding Lewis in his sweet spot. Great read, great look, great result.
Charlotte fought its way back into the game in the second half by playing a small lineup featuring Boris Diaw at center and Gerald Wallace at power forward. Though Diaw is no match for Howard defensively, the Magic center was in foul trouble and couldn't afford to bang with Diaw too hard. Plus, the Bobcats' aggressive two-three zone shrunk the court, which partially explains how Richardson managed to put up 17 shots, his highest since taking 17 last November 3rd. Richardson often found himself in the unenviable position of having hardly any time left on the shot clock and a Bobcats defender in his face.
The Magic took sharp care of the ball for most of the night against the Bobcats' ball-hawking defense, which helped cut down on the Bobcats' transition game to an extent. But the Bobcats did manage to run on Orlando's own misses, of which there were plenty. And they narrowly won the rebounding battle, 40-37.
Wallace kept Charlotte in the game with some uncharacteristically hot shooting. He led all scorers with 25 points, shot 9-of-15 from the floor, and made all four of his three-point attempts. Wallace is a 31.5 percent career shooter from three-point range and had made just 1 of his 5 shots from that distance coming into this game, so for him to sink 4 without a miss is remarkable. Only once before, in 549 career contests, has he shot 100 percent from beyond the arc with at least four attempts, and sure enough, that came against Orlando as well. His 5-of-11 shooting inside the arc is more representative of the Magic's defense than his performance beyond it.
Mickael Pietrus ought to receive plenty of credit for his defense of Jackson, still the Bobcats' most dangerous shot-creator, on their final possession. Isolated against Jackson at the top of the key, Pietrus got up into his former Golden State Warriors teammate, hounded him as he dribbled, and ultimately forced him to lose his handle. As he recovered the ball, Jackson flung it to Diaw on the right wing. His tying trey attempt hardly drew iron and the ball caromed out of bounds off Lewis' fingertips. D.J. Augustin's catch-and-shoot three attempt with eight-tenths of a second to go sailed wide left, and the Magic escaped. None of that happens, perhaps, if Pietrus allows Jackson to get free or collapse the defense. A huge stop, and a great example of what makes Pietrus the team's best perimeter defender.
Orlando has tomorrow off before hosting the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. Clearly, I'm not an injury expert, but I have a hard time envisioning Carter returning in time for that game.
In his first start in place of Nelson, who sat due to a sprained left ankle, Duhon acquitted himself. Though he missed 4 of his 6 shots, he tallied 9 assists and didn't turn the ball over once, thereby doubling his assist-to-turnover ratio on the season.
And Ryan Anderson? After two games as the team's starting power forward, he received a Did Not Play-Coach's Decision. Due to poor pick-and-roll coverage, he did not play in the second half of last night's win over the New Jersey Nets, meaning he's now sat for the Magic's last 6 consecutive quarters.