Magic/Bobcats Series Preview
‘I just happened to be there when the wheel went round.’
To overlook something is often done without much thought, and — with further clarification — lots of regret. It seems like every year when the first round of the NBA Playoffs roll around, many fans do just that with a particular series. According to an NBA.com poll, only 9 percent of fans think the Bobcat-Magic series has potential for drama. This is simply not the case.
The Magic are hungry to get back to the Finals. Seeking redemption from last year‘s events, the Magic have the second best record in the NBA, and are already being picked by many experts to get back to the Finals and have another shot at winning it all. With a dedicated fan base behind them, the Magic have all the support (and talent) they need to turn their Finals dreams into reality.
The Bobcats are entering their first Playoff series in franchise history. (Sidenote: If they some how win this series they will have more first round wins than Tracy McGrady.) As a fan from the very beginning, this day has really been a happy one for me.
After experiencing two sub par coaches who couldn’t get the job done (Bernie Bickerstaff and Sam “Fine Ham Biscuit” Vincent), having Larry Brown made me start to think the Bobcats would make the Playoffs within my lifetime. Although I wasn’t too enthused with him at first — and this might be the last time I see him coach — Larry has brought us to the Playoffs.
The fact that we are winning has brought new faces to the arena and put butts in the seats. Lots of new fans are excited about the potential this group has as well as old Hornet supporters and fair-weather folks are coming out of the woodwork. This fan base is growing into a strong one, and so is the team we support.
The Magic and Bobcats have been division rivals ever since the day Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor were drafted with the first and second picks in 2005. A race to see which big would develop superiority ensued. Although Okafor won Rookie of the Year, he isn’t even in Charlotte anymore. Dwight has been an All-Star, an Olympian, and gone to the NBA Finals. It is clear who won.
But it didn’t end with Okafor’s departure. The Magic are kings of the Southeast Division. The surging Bobcats are building up to take their spot, without Okafor. There is definitely a fight to be had between these two teams.
Stan Van Gundy and Larry Brown have both preached some overlapping ideas, but with just as many differences. Both teams play very strong defense. The Bobcats are first in the NBA in points allowed at a staggering 93 per game, the Magic are fourth only giving up 95 per outing.
The Magic live and die off the three point shot. When the shot isn’t falling and the second chance opportunities are limited, the Magic lose. This is a rare event. Proper perimeter defense against Orlando is so hard because of Dwight Howard. If you want to beat Orlando, you need four guys near the three point line with hands in shooter’s faces. This is a bad decision because, to do that, you cannot double-team Dwight. Without a double-team, Dwight can do whatever he wants in both scoring and rebounding. The only option is to deploy three perimeter defenders and pray for an off night. This doesn’t happen much.
The Bobcats play an ugly style of offense. When not scoring off defensive turnovers, the Bobcats offense will score in one of two ways: 1) Pound the ball in with drives to the pain until there is a basket and/or foul, and 2) Shoot threes and long jump shots like there is no tomorrow.
Option 1 is rather effective, and in most Bobcats wins it was a big part of the outcome. When the baskets are easy after being earned the hard way (paradox!), good things happen. Option 2 can sometimes work but usually backfires. The shots either all go in or all miss. When it rains it pours, and when there is a drought it’s dry. More likely than not, if a team can get the Bobcats to take a lot of jumpers, they will win.
Neither team has a definite super scorer. There are very few in the League, and none play in Charlotte or Orlando. Dwight Howard is a force, but he is not a scorer. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace can both score, but are not scorers. For all fans who like to watch two heavyweight players going at it, you will be disappointed. This game is a match up between two heavyweight teams with very comparable rosters. Here is my breakdown:
POINT GUARD: RAYMOND FELTON VS. JAMEER NELSON
The Breakdown: These two are basically the same player. Both are strong point guards, mentally and physically. They are both team leaders, both can control the tempo of the entire game. Raymond has been particularly good in clutch situations this year, but so has Nelson.
Advantage: Push. My bias leads me to say Felton, but I cant write “advantage: Bobcats” with a clean conscience. Both guys are about the same.
SHOOTING GUARD: STEPHEN JACKSON VS. VINCE CARTER
The Breakdown: Ever since coming to the Bobcats, Stephen Jackson has been a leader on this team. He has helped everyone find a place in the offense, and will help carry the team through any and every situation. When the Magic traded for Carter, they hoped for a similar effect; but to no avail. Despite several great games this year, Vince has not led the Magic in the way they needed him to.
Advantage: Bobcats. Jackson is averaging more points and has been more consistent. The only thing that can stop him is injuries.
SMALL FORWARD: GERALD WALLACE VS. MATT BARNES
The Breakdown: Gerald Wallace is the Charlotte Bobcats. He was our only player to get on National TV this year, thus our representative to the world. Matt Barnes is starting to make some noise due to his defense, but is not nearly as good of a player as Wallace.
Advantage: Bobcats. Gerald Wallace is our best player. While Matt Barnes plays great defense, he does not measure up to Gerald Wallace. Barnes is good, Wallace is an All-Star.
POWER FORWARD: BORIS DIAW VS. RASHARD LEWIS (X-FACTOR MATCH UP)
The Breakdown: Rashard Lewis has underwhelming this year during regular season, but is a huge part of the Playoff run last year. Whether he produces or not, he is a huge part of team chemistry. It is really about what Rashard shows up; the one everyone either loved (or feared) in last year’s Playoffs, or the one that is fans are disgusted with (or love due to lack of production) from this regular season. Boris Diaw is in the same boat as Rashard. Was a big part of the final push the Bobcats made last year. This year he has had many games of 0-6 points, but as had several 28+-point games and a couple near to complete triple doubles. If the focused and motivated Diaw shows up, the Bobcats have a real chance at winning, if the lazy ‘I just wanna chill’ Diaw shows up they are finished.
Advantage: To be determined, will play a huge role in the series.
CENTER: THEO RATLIFF VS. DWIGHT HOWARD
The Breakdown: Dwight Howard will exploit this. Theo was a great defender, but even in his prime he would have a tough time with Dwight. While I expect Theo to hold his own, there is only so much he can do.
Advantage: Magic. ‘Nuff said.
BENCH: BOBCATS VS. MAGIC (X-FACTOR MATCH UP)
The Breakdown: Both teams have a cast of great role players in their rotations. Larry Hughes, Tyrus Thomas, Tyson Chandler, DJ, Stephen Graham vs. Jason Williams, Pietrus, Gortat, JJ Reddick, Anthony Johnson, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson. Who will step up? One can only speculate.
Advantage: Yet to be determined.
JACKSON/WALLACE 1-2 PUNCH VS. THE DWIGHT HOWARD EFFECT
The Breakdown: The chemistry and grittiness of Jackson and Wallace is unmatched by any other tandem in the League. But what Dwight does for Orlando is unmatched even by them.
Advantage: The Howard Effect. The Jackson/Wallace 1-2 Punch is what got the Bobcats to the Playoffs. It has been tested and proven. Unfortunately for them, The Dwight Howard Effect is much greater. The ability Dwight has to spread the court for three point shooters, get rebounds, impose his will on defense, block any shot coming toward him, and just be a force is something that will overwhelm the Bobcats; even with the awesomeness of the 1-2 punch.
SERIES WINNER: Magic in 7 games. The experience and the home court advantage for the final game will give them the series. While I hate to write against my Bobcats, it’s the truth. The only way the Bobcats can win is if they win all their home games plus one in Orlando. This is doable but unlikely.
The Bobcats will emerge as the long-term winners. Players, coaches, fans and media will see the fight put up and respect Charlotte. Combined with the MJ factor it could be enough to convince quality free agents to consider Charlotte as a desirable location. This is similar to the effect Hawks achieved after their first series against the Celtics.
After reading all this, I hope anyone who was considering skipping out on this series will reevaluate. Division rivals, similar talent, Dwight Howard, Gerald Wallace, all the X-factors, and the potential for seven games leads me to question not where the drama is, but where the drama is lacking? Don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself and be pleasantly surprised.