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Orlando Magic 98, Charlotte Bobcats 89

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Point guard Jameer Nelson scored 24 of his game-high 32 points in the first half to lead the Orlando Magic to a 98-89 win over the Charlotte Bobcats to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Regular-season leading scorers Dwight Howard and Vince Carer combined for just 17 points on 6-of-23 shooting. The Bobcats fell behind by as many as 22 points early in the third quarter, but battled back to within 5 points with 52 seconds remaining after Raymond Felton drained a deep three-pointer. Orlando shot just 11-of-37 in the second half due to Charlotte's suffocating defense, as well as their attacking offense; the Bobcats simply put their head down and tried driving to the basket after halftime in order to draw fouls and ugly up the game, and these fouls happened to come against Orlando's key players. Carter, Howard, and Nelson drew 3, 5, and 2 fouls, respectively, in the second half, and Charlotte 16-of-22 at the foul line as a result. Gerald Wallace led Charlotte with 25 points and a game-high 17 boards, but simply didn't get enough help for the Bobcats to pull off the upset. Orlando's bench came up big in the win, outscoring Charlotte's by a 28-16 margin.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Bobcats 88 101.1 48.6% 28.2 27.8 18.2
Magic 85 115.3 53.4% 25.7 20.5 10.6
Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.

UPDATE: Here's the revised/expanded version of this recap. - BQR

There are two distinct ways to react to this game from Orlando's perspective. If you're an optimist, you like that your team won despite poor showings from its two top scorers. If you're a pessimist, you're worried that your team nearly blew a 22-point, second-half lead to an offensively inept team making its first playoff appearance. For his part, coach Stan Van Gundy appears to lean toward the optimistic side. "It wa sa good day from that standpoint," he said, "that we got a real good effort out of them [the Bobcats] and really got the way to experience the way they're going to play and still got out of here with a win, and knowing that we need to be a lot better on Wednesday." In short, Van Gundy appreciated the fact that his team faced a challenge. This win did not come easily, though it certainly looked like it would early.

And what might some of those things to improve be, coach?

I think we can be better in our post-up game and go to Dwight more. We'll work on those things in practice on Tuesday and get back at it.

Howard managed to play just 28 minutes due to foul trouble, and used just 7 shooting possessions for 5 points. But his lack of offensive statistics isn't entirely due to foul trouble; even when he was on the floor, he was scarcely a target for his teammates in the low post. By my count, he didn't get a touch until Orlando's 5th possession. Posting against Theo Ratliff on the left block, he received an entry pass from Nelson and took a dribble toward the lane. Stephen Jackson doubled from the top part of the weak side on the dribble. Howard seemed to know it was coming and immediately kicked the ball back out to Nelson, who had stayed on the strong side after making the entry pass. His three-pointer was open, but fell off the mark. That's about the only time I can remember Howard looking good, or comfortable, when double-teamed. Early in the second quarter, Orlando had consecutive shot-clock violations due to poor spacing and off-ball movement, with Howard receiving the ball 17 feet from the basket and having to back-pedal to the corner to avoid Charlotte's aggressive double-teams. He managed to find an open teammate, but by then, far too much time had elapsed and no one could find an open look.

Orlando owes its hot start almost exclusively to Nelson, the team co-captain who picked right up where he left off in the 2008 playoffs, the last postseason in which he was fully healthy. 32 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and just 2 turnovers for Nelson in 37 minutes overall for Nelson, who made 8 of his first 10 shots, attacked the Bobcats' defense early and often, and made it pay. Nobody Charlotte had could keep up with him. He shot 4-of-6 from three-point range, including a 35-foot bomb at the halftime buzzer, but tonight's performance wasn't a case of a guy solely lighting it up from beyond the arc. Nope, Nelson drove, broke the defense down, finished inside, made his pull-up jumpers... it was a solid, well-rounded game for him.

And though he's deserving of all he praise and feature articles he'll no doubt receive in the wake of his performance, we shouldn't overlook Rashard Lewis' night. He scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, boosting Orlando's offense on a night when it sorely needed contributions from anyone apart from Nelson. Reserves Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick scored 14 and 10, respectively, but Lewis was even more key tonight. After launching almost exclusively from beyond the arc in the regular season against Charlotte, he was more willing to attack off the dribble tonight. The Bobcats seemed eager to run him off the three-point line, and he complied. But once he got inside, he managed to sink his pull-up jumpers in the lane. He carried Orlando in the dismal third quarter, scoring 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting; his teammates combined for 9 points on 2-of-17 from the floor.

Here are the initial notes that appeared in the first version of this recap that I didn't wind up expanding later:

  • Tonight's crowd at Amway Arena was one of the best I've seen. No doubt that it was a legitimate sellout, and I estimate at least 95% of the paying customers were in their seats prior to tipoff. Charlotte's Theo Ratliff won the tip, and very few seconds elapsed before fans broke into a spontaneous, unprompted chant of "DE-FENSE!" Genuine engagement and enthusiasm from the crowd tonight, and the Magic's hot start only fanned the flames.

  • The second-half officiating got the crowd pretty into it as well. The Bobcats held a 22-8 free-throw advantage after intermission until they were forced to foul Orlando to prolong the game, leading to an additional 8 foul shots for the Magic in the final 1:04.

  • Howard appeared headed for a triple-double in the opening minutes, but wound up with a triple-single: 5 points, 7 boards, and a Magic team-record-tying 9 blocks in the game for Orlando's franchise center. He impressed Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who said, "if you read the stats correctly, he got 5 points and he was the most valuable player." Howard controlled the paint when he was in the game, but couldn't stay on the floor due to the fouls he tallied in the process.

  • Carter's Magic career got off to an inauspicious start, as he missed 15 of his 19 shots in addition to fouling out. Van Gundy chalked up some of Carter's struggles to it being "just one of those days"--that's a direct quote--for him, where he misses open looks he usually makes at a better percentage. But he also said he thought Carter wasn't aggressive enough.