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Orland Magic vs Charlotte Bobcats

NBA Playoff Preview - Orlando vs. Charlotte
From The Sports Network

By John McMullen, NBA editor

Orlando Magic: 2nd Seed, East (59-23)

Charlotte Bobcats: 7th Seed, East (44-38)

(Sports Network) - Larry Brown's latest reclamation project is complete and the Charlotte Bobcats will be making the franchise's first ever postseason appearance.

Brown's prize for turning things around in Charlotte?

How about the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic in the first round.

Despite losing sharp-shooter and go-to-guy Hedo Turkoglu in the offseason, Orlando persevered and earned its third consecutive Southeast Division crown and compiled the second best record in the NBA at 59-23.

Incredibly consistent, Orlando joined Dallas as the only clubs this season to beat every team in the NBA at least once, and the Magic were the only NBA team that did not lose a season series to any opponent.

"I knew that once we got our chemistry together, I think we have the most talented team," Orlando forward Matt Barnes said. "The starting five is the best in the league."

Charlotte's road to the postseason really took off in mid-November when the team acquired talented swingman Stephen Jackson from Golden State for a package that included the injured Raja Bell and Vladimir Radmanovic.

Jackson was able to team with All-Star forward Gerald Wallace to give Brown quite a 1-2 punch as the Bobcats surged to the seventh seed in the conference.

"I really believe the season's just starting," Brown said. "I'm thrilled we got into the playoffs."

Charlotte will not be heading into the postseason without controversy, however. Reports surfaced early this week that the nomadic Brown is interested in returning to Philadelphia or Los Angeles once the Bobcats' season ends, although the veteran mentor denied the rumors.

Brown's wife and two teenage children still live in suburban Philadelphia and The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell recently asked Bobcats owner Michael Jordan about Brown's situation.

Jordan reportedly indicated he wouldn't stand in Brown's way if he felt the need to return to Philadelphia for family reasons. The Clippers job is also an option since Brown's wife is a Los Angeles native.

The Bobcats avoided a sweep in the season series with the Magic when they topped Orlando, 96-89, in central Florida on March 14.


POINT GUARD: Orlando's Jameer Nelson never returned to the All-Star form he showed in the first half of last season before going down with a shoulder injury. But, the former St. Joseph's star is a steady point guard that can be counted on to run things smoothly even when things aren't going the way you would like. Nelson is undersized, however, and can be a liability at the defensive end.

Playing the point for Brown is tough, especially for a younger player. L.B. wants a quarterback that thinks pass first and has a defensive mindset. Think Eric Snow.

Raymond Felton doesn't necessarily fit those qualifications and is often Brown's whipping boy but the ex-North Carolina standout put up similar numbers to Nelson and is actually more physically gifted. That said, Nelson's experience gives him the slight edge.


SHOOTING GUARD: Jackson really turned the Bobcats into a legitimate playoff contender when he arrived from Oakland. Many in the media dismiss Jackson as an elite player since he had some off the court problems in Indianapolis and his perceived griping in Oakland was detrimental to the Warriors. However, he is one of the game's most underrated players.

Athletic with a high basketball IQ, Jackson is a somewhat streaky shooter but his range extends to the three-point line when he heats up. Against smaller players, Brown will often utilize Jackson in the post, where he uses above- average passing skills and solid court vision to make things happen. On the defensive end, Jackson hounds the perimeter with his long wingspan, quickness, and awareness.

"You ask anyone in the league - Stephen is an elite player. He's as bright as anyone I've coached," Brown said.

Vince Carter, an eight-time All-Star, isn't the same player he once was in Toronto or New Jersey but he can still light it up and take over a game at times. Back on Feb. 8, Carter found the Fountain of Youth and poured in a a season-high 48 points against the New Orleans Hornets, including 34 in the second half to help rally the Magic back from a 17-point deficit. You certainly can't expect that kind of production consistently but when the jumper is falling, Carter is still very tough to check. He's not nearly the defender Jackson is, however.


CENTER: The Bobcats have plenty of options at center but none of them figure to slow down Howard, the toughest inside matchup in the NBA. If Brown goes with Tyson Chandler or Nazr Mohammed to try and slow down Howard with bulk, that will allow the Magic to get a ton of open looks for Rashard Lewis and Carter. If Brown chooses the smarts of veteran Theo Ratliff that will open up the middle for Howard, a monster inside that can dominate any game.

A tinge of immaturity and shaky free-throw shooting are always on the back- burner with Howard but he finished the regular season leading the league in both rebounding and blocked shots for the second straight season, a feat never done before.

To control the double-double monster on the offensive end, you need to push him away from the basket. Defensively, Howard is a monster but can be prone to foul trouble so the whistle will be key from game to game.

"There has been no (Hedo) Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis missed the first 10 games of the season, Vince Carter started very slowly and they still have the second best record in the NBA because of Dwight," TNT NBA analyst Charles Barley said.


SMALL FORWARD: Barnes was the biggest surprise for Orlando this season, taking over the starting job here and turning into quite a role player. A pesky defender, Barnes also developed a solid stand-still, three-pointer from the weak-side this season.

Boris Diaw is a very skilled player that can hurt you on the offensive end, both scoring and passing. He's not the toughest guy in the world, however, and is a below average rebounder and defender.

This matchup comes down to preference. If you like defense and scrappy play, Barnes is your guy. If you like skilled players, Diaw is the answer.


POWER FORWARD: Lewis isn't your prototypical power forward but the 6-foot-10 veteran is a matchup nightmare for most clubs. The former All-Star still has one of the best strokes in the game but can now put that in his pocket and spend more time on the blocks. His weaknesses are rebounding and low-post defense but his ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end more than makes up for that.

The Bobcats seem to have one of the few players that can take advantage of Lewis' weaknesses, while at least slowing him down at the offensive end. Wallace is a much better defender and rebounder than Lewis. He also possesses the toughness to give Lewis fits in an extended series.


BENCH: Mickael Pietrus is inconsistent. One minute he can be Stan Van Gundy's whipping boy and the next he is brilliant, burying big three after big three. An extremely athletic player, Pietrus will also get opportunities to defend both Jackson and Wallace at times. Big men Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass, along with veteran point Jason Williams and sharp-shooter J.J. Redick also get situational minutes. Gortat and Bass can be really important when Howard gets into foul trouble.

The Bobcats' bench was bolstered down the stretch by the additions of Tyrus Thomas and Larry Hughes. Thomas has the length and athletic ability to rebound and defend, while Hughes can heat up at times and carry a team for a stretch here and there. As mentioned before there are plenty of bodies to take fouls against Howard up front, although Chandler suffered a hip pointer and elbow injury in the second quarter of the team's regular season finale. D.J. Augustin is also a very solid back up point guard for Brown.


COACHING: Van Gundy proved he was one of the game's best tacticians during last year's playoff run but few in the history of the game can match up with Brown when it comes to X's and O's. Brown's lone deficiency as a coach is his impatience with his players and his situation. He tends to give up on talented young players rather quickly and loathes playing rookies. That can hurt you in an 82-game marathon but I don't like any coach trying to match chess pieces with L.B. in a short series. The problem here is Brown already has one foot out the door.


PREDICTION: The talent discrepancy between these two teams is not as great as you would think considering the difference in records but a number of things are pointing in Orlando's direction. The Bobcats already accomplished their main goal of making the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, the core of the Magic have that deep run from last year to fall back upon and the most dominant inside player in the game in Howard. The fact that Brown has likely already made the decision to move on is also tough to overcome.

MAGIC in 5

Plus 1 Coopers Pick