Welcome to Bobcats Baseline’s preview of the Bobcats first ever playoff series.
First, some general stuff. The Magic finished the year 59-23 (34-7 home). They posted the best overall point differential in the league this year: +7.5. Hollinger’s formulas have them ranked as the second best in the league in terms of offensive efficiency (behind only the Suns) and tied with the Bobcats for first in defensive efficiency.
Head to head, Orlando won the season series over the Bobcats 3-1. The Magic took the first game in Orlando back on November 10, 93-81. Game two just six days later in Charlotte turned out to be Stephen Jackson’s Bobcats debut, but the game went to the Magic again, 97-91.
The Cats took Orlando to overtime in Charlotte on January 23, but the Magic once again prevailed, 105-95. Finally, in the last matchup on March 14, the Cats broke through for a 96-89 win, despite playing in Orlando without an injured Gerald Wallace.
Now lets get down to the matchups. ASChin and I decided to do a collabo for this, and we’ll start by breaking down the battle in the paint.
Dr. E: In the middle, Dwight Howard creates problems for every other team in the league. He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots for the year. It’s almost universally agreed upon that Orlando could be even more dominant if they made a more concerted effort to get him the ball on the offensive end (which they don’t always do, especially in the fourth quarter).
But it’s almost as if Larry Brown knew this matchup was coming. He’s collected a cadre of serviceable big men to play center-by-committee. Theo Ratliff is like an older, wiser version of Tyson Chandler, who has shown signs of life himself in recent weeks.
Nazr Mohammed has looked rusty in two games since returning from back problems, but was a revelation earlier in the season with his ability to score in the post. And Gana Diop is, well, Gana Diop (or Joey Crawford’s avatar).
Together, they represent four bodies and 24 fouls that could be deployed to wear Howard down.
ASChin: Agreed. They’ll try to win the war of attrition, throwing 24 fouls at Dwight and making the other 4 Magic players beat them one on one. The last thing that you want to do is play into the Magic’s hands. They want you to defend DHO for 40+ minutes, using up fouls at the center spot. Fortunately, the Bobcats have enough bodies in the middle to combat this somewhat but as you see in the breakdown vid below Dwight can now make you pay for single coverage.
Dr. E: The other way the Bobcats may try to neutralize Howard will be to get him into foul trouble himself. In this blog post from Rick Bonnell (once you get past the nonsense about how Rick and Gerald Wallace are like peas in a pod) Wallace stresses that the Cats need to take it straight at Howard to have a chance.
Howard averaged 3.5 fouls per game this year, fouling out four times and getting to five fouls more times than I bothered to count. Of course, if Howard gets into foul trouble, backup Marcin Gortat is more than capable of becoming an X-factor.
ASChin: This is a big deal. The Bobcats aren’t a great jump shooting team. They’ll have to continue to go to the hoop to have any chance in this series. With Dwight down there, it’ll be tough but I’m guessing that Coach Brown will try to run a lot high screen pick and rolls with Chandler and Ratliff to try and get Howard out out of the paint.
Lets move on to the 4 spot.
Rashard Lewis is having far from his best season as a pro. His FG%, ppg, rebounds and blocks are way down. Not exactly want you want from an $18 million a year guy. He still shoots lights out from beyond the arc so the ‘Cats will again have to prevent the Magic from forcing a double team on Howard down low.
I think a platoon of Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw matches up well against Lewis. Diaw in particular is going to force Lewis to guard him on those little post jump-hooks and when Howard comes over for the block, Boris is crafty enough to be able to find Chandler or Mohammed for a dunk or layup with a quick pass in the paint. Also, look for Crash to play some minutes at the four if Brown decides to turn the tables and go small.
Dr. E: By the way, was it ever fully explained what Lewis’s 10-game PED suspension to start the year was all about? Ironic that he’s clearly fallen off this season, isn’t it? Some may write it up to missing training camp and never getting in the groove, or missing Hedo Turkoglu’s point forward drive-and-dishes, but has anyone measured his head circumference-to-testicle ratio serially over the years?
No? Okay, jussayin.
Anyways, yes, between Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw, the Cats are better suited than most teams to guard and switch out onto Rashard Lewis at the three point line.
Alright, that covers the bigs. Next up, we’ll discuss the wings and guards. After that coaching and intangibles.
ASChin: Wait, did you just mention Rashard Lewis’s testicles?
-Dr. E & ASChin