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Orlando Magic Must Keep Control of the Ball, Get Back on Defense to Complete Sweep of Charlotte Bobcats

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The first round of the NBA playoffs has been fairly kind to the Orlando Magic so far, as they hold a 3-0 series lead against the Charlotte Bobcats, a worthy opponent that's tested them in each game so far. But if the Magic are to complete the sweep tonight in Charlotte, they'll have to curb their turnovers, which have gotten worse in each game: turnovers ended Magic possessions 10.8% of the time in Game 1, 17.7% in Game 2, and a whopping 24% in Game 3.

Now, saying the Magic--or any team, really--needs to avoid turnovers is a bit obvious. After all, turnover rate is one of the Four Factors that Dean Oliver identified as keys to winning, or losing, in his seminal book Basketball on Paper. However, that fact is especially true for Orlando against the Bobcats, whose defense ranked 3rd in the league in forcing turnovers this season. Charlotte plays at the league's 5th-slowest pace, but still runs whenever it can in order to maximize the open-court abilities of pogo-stick forwards Gerald Wallace and Tyrus Thomas, as well as the speed of point guards Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin.

In the three games, Orlando's turned the ball over 44 times, which translates to 17.6% of its possessions, in this series. That figure doesn't really tell the whole story, because it includes turnovers that result in Charlotte's taking the ball out of bounds, such as offensive fouls, traveling, and shot-clock violations. When eliminating those turnovers from consideration, the Magic have just 20 in the series, which have resulted in 24 points.

In Game 3, the most competitive to date, the Bobcats managed 14 points in 10 such opportunities, which really highlighted their ability to score in transition. In a different way, it showed how poorly they've run their offense when the Magic have been able to set their defense. Here's how everything breaks down for the series to date. Remember that "transition," as I employ it, refers to Bobcats possessions that started with a Magic live-ball turnover:

Situation Pts Poss. Pts Per Poss.
Transition 24 20 1.200
Else 228 236 0.966

But this analysis doesn't account for another element of transition offense, namely scoring off of blocked shots that stay inbounds. When we adjust for that, we get these results:

Situation Pts Poss. Pts Per Poss.
34 28 1.214
Else 218 228 0.956

That Charlotte can get out on the break isn't surprising, given its personnel, as noted above. But the Magic have usually done a good job this season of getting back on defense. John Schuhmann's analysis of the league's transition defense last month showed the Magic were the very best at it, in fact. They'll need to improve that effort in Game 4--or, better yet, stop coughing it up--if they hope to finish the Bobcats off tonight and get some rest for the second round. Coach Stan Van Gundy agrees, and the Orlando Sentinel reports he'd like the Magic to halve their turnovers from Game 3.

Surprisingly, given his usual sure-handedness, Vince Carter's been the biggest offender. He's committed 5 live-ball turnovers in this series, all on Game 3, and Charlotte scored off 4 of them. Dwight Howard is next, with the Bobcats converting 3 of his 4 live-ball miscues into baskets. In a curious twist, the Bobcats' 4 scores off Carter's turnovers have come right at the rim, while 2 of theirs off Howard are three-pointers. I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from that split, but it's nonetheless fun to note the Bobcats' different approaches with those players.