Season Series: Orlando 3-1
* This is just one of the eight preview's for the first round, click below for all eight previews *
Before the season started, the Orlando Magic picked up Vince "Cry Baby" Carter and has he improved their team? I'd say yes, but last year they went 59-23 and this year they are 59-23. Hmm....
Vince has definitely helped, though, by averaging over 16.0 points a game in just over 30 minutes a night, but the Magic are Dwight Howard's team. Dude is a freak. He leads the league in rebounds and blocks, averages over 13 and 2.5 respectively, and leads the Magic in points with just shy of 20 points per game. Much like Cleveland, the Orlando management has done a fabulous job at giving Howard all the pieces of the puzzle he needs to get back to the NBA Finals, and this time win it.
Howard leads the team. Carter was brought into be the difference-maker, but Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson know they are just as pivotal to Orlando's success as any player on the team. If the Magic can stay healthy and sixth-man J.J. Reddick and Mickael Pietrus can come off the bench and give Orlando's starters the break they need while keeping them ahead of the Bobcats on the scoreboard, the Magic are going to be extremely hard to beat.
Just because LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant all put up almost 30 points a game (10 points more than Howard), doesn't mean Dwight Howard is a freak and can't not only take over a game offensively but defensively better than anyone. The Magic went 3-1 against Boston, 3-1 against Atlanta, and 3-1 against Cleveland, and with how much stronger these four teams are than the rest of the Eastern Conference, you may very well see Orlando back in the NBA Finals. They play their best basketball against their best opponents and I expect the Magic to go deep in the playoffs. The question is, Will Vince Carter be the wimp he's been in Toronto and New Jersey and complain about his toe, or foot, or shoulder, or back? Let's hope not, because the addition of "Vinsanity" should give the Magic the final piece to win the Championship.
The Charlotte Bobcats are in the the playoffs for the first time ever, congratulations to the Charlotte Hornets, uhh, the New Orleans Hornets, Bobcats. The Bobcats come from the Southeast, which is packed with Orlando, Atlanta, and Miami, who all made the playoffs (along with the abysmal Washington Wizards) and even though they have never finished better than fourth in the Southeast, for the first year ever they've clinched a playoff berth.
It hasn't been with the play of their former big-name draft picks Emeka Okafor (now in New Orleans) and Adam Morrison (L.A. Lakers) but the steady and consistent players they've picked up (other than Felton). Steven Jackson, who is playing on his sixth NBA team, has led the Bobcats to where their fans have wanted them to be since the days of the Hornets. Jackson and Gerald Wallace lead the team, combining for almost 40 points per game and over 15 rebounds. Wallace has been on the team for the last six seasons after coming over from the Sacramento Kings and, as mentioned above, starting point guard Raymond Felton is really the only draft pick who has worked out for Charlotte.
When Felton is not scoring points himself, he does a fabulous job of distributing the ball to whichever of his teammates have the hot hand that night. Even Boris Diaw and Theo Ratliff kick in their share, while Tyrus Thomas and Tyson Chandler (he suffered a injury in the last game of the season and won't be at 100%) add to what Diaw and Ratliff already do, and no matter who is out there Charlotte doesn't lose much offensively. Charlotte lost the first three games to Orlando earlier in the season (two games in November, one in January) but most recently in March, they knocked off Orlando, 96-89, as Jackson led the way with 28 points. The problem for the Bobcats (other than the fact they are playing the Magic), is that they are a banged-up team. In the last couple games of the season, Thomas, Jackson, and Felton were all listed as day-to-day with either dislocated fingers, tweaked hamstrings, or flu-like symptoms. Whether it's from being banged up, or swept by the Magic, all that Charlotte is going to see is black and blue.
The Coach's Pick: MAGIC in FOUR