A full day has passed since Game 1 of the Orlando Magic's Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Charlotte Bobcats went in the books, and with another day left before they square off again, it's as good a time as any to look at three things the Magic can improve on offensively in Game 2. The Magic scored an impressive 115.3 points per 100 possessions against the league's best defense, but did most of their damage in the first half. Charlotte adjusted its pick-and-roll coverage of Jameer Nelson in the second half, and he cooled off considerably, missing all 6 of his field goal attempts after intermission. Coach Stan Van Gundy was pleased that the Bobcats played them so hard, given how little resistance the Magic's final regular-season opponents offered. "In the last couple of weeks we really haven't played a real tough defensive team. Everything was pretty easy offensively," he said.
So obviously, there's room for improvement. Here are three ways the Magic can boost their offense against what figures to be a much more relaxed Bobcats squad in Game 2.
Work the ball inside: One of the reasons Dwight Howard didn't get many touches in Game 1 was Nelson's hot first-half shooting; there was simply no need to go inside with Nelson dialed in from the perimeter and getting to the cup at will.
With that said, Orlando's offense is at its best when the ball works inside-out. Nelson's drive-and-kick game is one way to accomplish that task; Howard's post-up game is another, and one that didn't work at all in Game 1. I anticipated that Charlotte would play Howard one-on-one, given that it has two above-average post defenders in Theo Ratliff and Tyson Chandler, and another who's been effective against him despite not having a solid defensive reputation in Nazr Mohammed. Instead, the Bobcats ran an extra man at Howard, almost exclusively from the weak side. The aggressive pressure from the likes of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace disrupted Howard's rhythm down low, and he relies on his rhythm.
Van Gundy refused to place all the blame for Orlando's ineffectiveness down low on Howard, though. "I think our other guys have got to be a little better with their spacing," he said.
Now, maybe this issue wouldn't loom so large if Howard had managed to stay on the court; he picked up 5 fouls in 28 minutes, and clearly he can't do anything if he's on the bench. But it's become clear that Orlando has to find some way to generate offense inside, and Howard's the likeliest candidate. Looking for Marcin Gortat, his backup, in pick-and-roll situations is also an option, as is going to Rashard Lewis on the low block.
Get Vince Carter involved: Part of Carter's 4-of-19 nightmare in Game 1 is bad luck. "I think it was one of those days in terms of shooting the ball," Van Gundy said. "I think most of those shots, if Vince gets them again, he'll make," he continued, before adding, "but I would like to see him attacking more."
And that's just it. The Bobcats took their chances a bit by giving Orlando's starting two-guard "air space," as Van Gundy called it, but that strategy paid off. Carter never got into a comfort zone, and even when he did drive, he often settled for an awkward, off-balance scoop or a runner. He didn't manage to get all the way to the rim, though Nelson did try connecting with him on an alley-oop that went awry in the second half.
Of course, the Bobcats have a say in what Carter does as well, as Van Gundy said. "They did a real good job denying. We're going to have to do a better job screening and he's going to have to do a better job to really work to get open." And one way to take away Carter's offense is to force him to play D, Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace said: "With him having to burn energy on defense, he doesn't have as much energy to extend on offense." Wallace challenged Carter early in Game 1, draining two jumpers in the first three minutes as Carter struggled to fight through screens.
If I'm Van Gundy, I'm showing film of the Magic's March win against the L.A. Lakers to Carter as a blueprint for how to approach Charlotte in Game 2. Against L.A., Carter attacked early and often, and finished the first period with 15 points on 2-of-2 shooting from the floor and 10-of-10 from the foul line. That effort came against Ron Artest, one of the league's best perimeter defenders. If he can toast Artest like that, he can certainly do the same to Wallace and Jackson, who are no slouches themselves.
Move: Another key element of Orlando's offense is off-ball movement, which was sorely lacking in Game 1, and particularly in the second half. Orlando got caught watching Nelson work, and at times almost looked like the Dallas Mavericks with the steady pick-and-pops they ran with Nelson and Rashard Lewis. The two-man game worked--Lewis scored 19 on 8-of-11 shooting, making 5 of his 6 two-point attempts--but at the expense of getting others involved. Matt Barnes used just 3 shooting possessions, while Howard managed only 7. Too much ball-watching on Orlando's part, particularly in the second half, which Charlotte exploited.
Ryan Anderson believes that the Magic need to make a better effort to run their offense, especially around Howard. "Dwight's a big piece of our offense," he told me. "If we continue to just stand around and let him try and go to work, then it's not going to work for us. Then we're really going to need to focus on our cutting and spacing, and hopefully we can get some open shots on the weak side."
Making some changes, whether they're the ones I've outlined here or something more elegant that Van Gundy and his staff come up with, is imperative for Game 2. The Bobcats nearly pulled out the win and seem to have found a blueprint for getting Howard out of the game. Wallace, Jackson, and their teammates aren't afraid to drive at him and draw fouls, no matter how many of their shots he sends back in the process. If you're the Bobcats, you're encouraged that the Magic needed an otherworldly night from Jameer Nelson and a 13-of-30 performance from three-point range to beat you, at home. Those things seem less sustainable than, say, getting Howard to pick up 5 fouls in 28 minutes.