Score: 107-102 Magic (OT)
Bobcats Record: 21-32
Meritorious Player: Emeka Okafor, with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block, and 1 assist. With Mek on the court, the defense surrendered points at an efficiency of 101.6. Unfortunately, 6 fouls ended Emeka's night a little before the rest of the team.
The Bobcats had a chance to steal one on the road – a 3-point lead with about 13 seconds left, Raja Bell at the line for the 2nd of 2 to make it a 4-point game…but he missed. The Magic take advantage, with J.J. Redick hitting a 3 to tie the game and send it to overtime. Once Emeka fouled out less than a minute into OT, it seemed pretty well decided. Not that I am blaming the refs, or Raja. No – actually, Raja was the team's best free throw shooter last night, going 4 for 5. It was every one else who had a chance at the stripe who cost the Bobcats the game, as the team went 8 for 17 overall. Yes, the team shot better on their 2-point attempts than on their free throw attempts. And it cost them.
Orlando had no such deficiencies, going 28 of 37. Dwight Howard led the charge, going 13 of 18, on his way to a career-high 45 points, along with 19 rebounds and 8 blocks. A very impressive night for Superman, the one player in the league that we know for sure can dunk on a 12-foot rim. As you might expect when one player does so much damage, the rest of the Magic had relatively quiet nights, with only one other player managing to shoot better than 50% from the floor; that would be Redick, going 3 of 5 for 10 points. That was planned by the Cats – they decided to single cover Dwight and let him get his, but to slow down the rest of the Magic. And it would have worked, had it not been for their free-throw woes (Having just talked about Superman, saying “it would have worked” made me feel like Lex Luthor, explaining how Superman thwarted my latest evil plan). They out-rebounded Orlando, 51-49, including offensively – 17-13. They committed fewer turnovers, albeit just one, 15-14. So, all in all, a solid game for the Cats, but one I am sure they are kicking themselves for letting slip away.
The highlight of the night: Seeing everyone back on the court. Gerald was back. Raja was back. D.J. is still back. The Cats had their full complement of players and it showed. The bench provided solid support with 31 points and 13 rebounds in 70+ minutes of combined action. Because of that depth, that were able to weather 2 fouls to Boris Diaw in the first 6 minutes of the game and weather his extended absence. As Gerald gets his wind back (and probably a bit more confidence in driving the lane again), the Bobcats should be ready to make a strong post-AllStar push. With the confidence of pushing the Magic to overtime (and knowing that should have won), that starts tonight with Indiana. Don't let this one slip away.