The first piece of our post-season coverage comes in the form of Q&As done with bloggers for the opposition. Regarding the Bobcats facing off against the Magic, they say…
Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball dot Net covers the Orlando Magic for the TrueHoop Network.
Me: Does Hedo Turkoglu's struggles in Toronto this season provide a sense of “whew – dodged a bullet” in that the Magic were not the ones to sign him? Or has Vince Carter's relative struggles negated that?
Eddy: To be honest, aside from his career-worst month in January, Vince Carter has been fine. Obviously his numbers are down across the board when looking at his per game averages but if you dig deeper, you'll notice that Carter's per minute numbers and his efficiency totals have stayed relatively constant from last year to this year. Ultimately, the reason why Carter's stats are down is because his minutes have decreased dramatically and he doesn't have to carry the workload as much as he had to with the New Jersey Nets the past few years. It took a few months but Carter has fit in nicely with the Orlando Magic and considering how the team has played since mid-January, it's safe to say that things have worked out for all parties involved.
As for Hedo Turkoglu, general manager Otis Smith certainly knew what he was doing when he didn't make serious overtures to Turkoglu in the off-season. Turkoglu definitely had a productive career with the Magic but had Smith offered him a long-term contract, that would have been a disastrous move. Cognizant of Turkoglu's age, skill, and thirst to party, Smith looked elsewhere and here we are. Although Carter is older than Turkoglu, there's no question he's the better player and his contract runs shorter, which gives Orlando flexibility in the near future to replace him when the time comes. So yes, the Magic dodged a bullet and I don't think many people are surprised at how things have transpired. Not me, at least.
Is this year's Magic team good enough to repeat last year's run and top it with a title? It seems like they have not quite gelled like they were last season before Jameer Nelson's injury.
No question this year's outfit is good enough to not only repeat last year's run but top it with a title. I would argue that Orlando has gelled, given how they've played in the second half of the season. Last year when Jameer Nelson was healthy and playing like an All-Star, the Magic were 33-8 and had an efficiency differential of +9.0 before he got hurt. After the All-Star break this year, the Magic went 33-8 but there's a major difference in their efficiency differential compared to 2009. It's astounding how good Orlando has been these past few months. At this point, it's safe to say that the roster overhaul Smith executed during the summer has worked out. Even if the Magic don't win a championship this year, Smith has setup a nice window for the franchise to compete for titles for the foreseeable future.
Do you see this series more likely to go 4 or 7? And why?
Even though the Bobcats have an excellent defense, which ranks first in Defensive Rating, I think the series is more likely to go four games. That isn't to suggest that Charlotte won't win a game or two — they probably will — because their great defensive efforts should be able to even the playing field against Orlando, relatively speaking. The question is, will the Bobcats (ranked 24th in Offensive Rating) be able to score enough points against the Magic's defense (ranked 3rd in Defensive Rating) to extend the series to six or seven games? According to the numbers, the answer appears to be no but you never know what's going to happen in the playoffs. Stranger things have happened.
And finally a prediction?
Magic in 5.
Thanks for the time, Eddy. And now I bring you Phillip of Orlando Magic Daily, formerly the TrueHoop network blog of the Orlando Magic (moving on to new opportunities, so congrats to Philip).
Me: What offenses succeed against the defensive juggernaut that is the Dwight-Howard led Orlando Magic? A game plan to beat the Magic in other words.
Philip: To beat the Magic offensively it starts with overcoming the fear of Dwight Howard and being willing to attack him. No easy task, but Howard is susceptible to roaming and trying to block shots. This sometimes puts him out of position. An offensive player has to be willing to drive in the lane and look to shoot without actually shooting. With Howard out of position, he usually leaves him man open for easy baskets underneath. And then, of course, that can also lead him to foul trouble. Which changes the game. So challenging him on offense is very key.
So it is important, like with challenging Howard, to make the extra pass. This is something Orlando does incredibly well. But when the defense is moving around, Charlotte will have to be willing to move the ball to the open man or drive and kick again. Obviously at that point, you have to make shots. Simple enough though.
Jameer Nelson can also sometimes be a weak point defensively and attacking him is a good bet to initiate an offense. Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin are good point guards and are going to challenge him defensively. Some games this matchup might be even, other games it might tilt in either direction as Nelson is also good attacking off the dribble.
But beating Orlando is easier said than done. The Magic rotate very well defensively and give Howard time to reset and reposition himself near the basket.
I was mildly hopeful the Bobcats would make a play for Vince Carter, but that did not happen. How has this season gone with him replacing Courtney Lee/Hedo Turkoglu? And how has it gone lately?
Vince Carter has had a very puzzling and up and down season. He had an ankle injury at the beginning of the season and struggled to integrate his skills into the team. He has never played with a post player anywhere near Dwight Howard's level. It took some getting used to. Then Carter had the shooting slump in January and everyone wondered if Orlando made the right move.
Even though Vince had the worst season statistically of his career, it still feels like it is unquestionably a better move. Based on season statistics, it felt like Vince and Hedo Turkoglu were a wash. Turkoglu averaged around 15 points per game, had a questionable shot selection, was only average defensively and handled the ball and came through in the clutch. Carter has done the same this year. What makes Carter different is that he can have 40-point outbursts. Orlando did not have that last year.
Now except for that game against New Orleans when Carter dropped 48, Magic fans have been waiting patiently for dominant Carter to show up. Is that suddenly going to happen in the playoffs? I don't know and I tend not to think so. He looks like he has been coasting for a long time and flipping an “on switch” is not the way to play. But Carter definitely fills his role on this team and is a weapon that should be useful this postseason.
Would you provide some thoughts on the big man depth of the Magic? Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat getting splinters would not happen in several cities around the league but have they had the impact expected when they were signed last season – or does that come in the playoffs?
The two moves fans have probably questioned most as the seasons has gone on were the Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat signings. Both have undeniably had their moments, but both have probably underperformed their contracts. But I think general manager Otis Smith had them more in mind for the postseason than the regular season.
Gortat is the Dwight Howard insurance policy. He is a great defender and fills in those minutes about as well as a human can when Howard is out of the game. He is very limited offensively, but can fill in and surprise you with a double double if you give him the minutes — remember Game Six of last year's series against Philadelphia.
I have always thought Bass would come in handy at some point in the season to matchup with teams who have two bruising post players. The guy works hard and is probably the most refined post player on the team (at least he was at the beginning of the season). He has been in and out of Stan Van Gundy's dog house for various reasons. One is that he likes having the streaky Ryan Anderson on the floor to play beyond the 3-point arc and stretch defenses. And two, Bass has struggled at times with the team's defensive schemes. The bottom line is if you don't play defense, you don't play.
The Magic have gotten good minutes out of all three guys on their bench. Matchups are largely going to dictate uses the three and, while some may be labeled disappointments this season, they were all brought in to make a difference this time of year.
There is no beating around the bush here. Out of all the teams in the lower half of the Eastern bracket, I think the Magic are very glad they are facing the Bobcats and not the Heat or Bucks. At first glance, I am tempted to say it will be sweep. But Charlotte is too good for that and it is REALLY difficult to take a team out in four games. Plus the Magic do go through swings offensively and could easily fall in love with the 3-pointer and have a few dud games, especially against a good defense.
The fact Charlotte has one of the top two defenses in the league says a lot about how good this team really is. It is not a stat to brush aside. Averaging 95 points per game may be enough to win this series (it might be too high in fact). This is going to be a really gritty, dirty, defensive series. There is no getting around that.
I am intrigued to see how the Bobcats elect to defend Dwight Howard and how Jameer Nelson fares against the Felton/Augustin duo. The Rashard Lewis-Boris Diaw matchup is going to be interesting too. Very few stretch fours do well against Lewis and how that matchup goes might be a turning point in this series.
That sounds like a lot of worry, but there is a lot of focus on the Magic side. The whole season has been leading up to the chance to make it back to the NBA Finals and win the whole thing this time. The team finished 33-8 in the last half of the season and are absolutely rolling toward the postseason. I do not see any type of let down like the team had in last year's first round and I think I have to take Orlando in five. But four or six would not surprise me.
Thanks to both Eddy and Philip for their time and thoughts. I am looking forward to this series and watching how all these questions are answered.