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April 25, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Magic Show

by Bradford Doolittle

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Orlando 90, at Charlotte 86 (Magic lead 3-0)
Pace: 88 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Magic 101.8, Bobcats 97.3

It ain't pretty, but Orlando fans will take it. The Magic barely cracked the one-point-per-possession mark, but against a Bobcats team that has no answers for Dwight Howard's interior defense, it turned out to be plenty on Saturday.

Howard again played limited minutes because of foul trouble, which is going to become increasingly problematic as the postseason progresses. The issue isn't that Howard can't guard without fouling, he just can't keep himself from committing the silly fouls that send him to the bench. On Saturday, he got tangled up with Gerald Wallace under the basket and flung Wallace aside. Because he's so big and strong, the relatively benign blow sent Wallace reeling and was an easy call for the officials. Later, Ray Felton actually beat him baseline and had a bead on the bucket and Howard, caught off balance, just sort of reached in and got Felton on the arm. Those are the kinds of plays Howard has to avoid. He can't get away with them. Like Shaquille O'Neal, he can't avoid ticky-tacky calls like other players simply because he's so powerful. D.J. Augustin can tangle with a player under the basket and get away with it, because the contact might be shielded from the officials. When Howard does it, he's like a human cue-ball--players just start flying when Howard contacts them.

When Howard was on the floor, he again completely shut down the lane for his team. For the game, Charlotte was 19-of-40 in the paint. Howard blocked seven shots in 26 minutes, while altering or preventing many more. Larry Brown's team has no answers--Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler and Nazr Mohammed have no chance against Howard. Can Larry Brown get away with playing Tyrus Thomas more at center? Probably a moot point now with the Magic up 3-0, but it might have been something to consider.

Aside from Howard, the other key matchup in the series has been at point guard, where Jameer Nelson has destroyed Raymond Felton. Nelson scored 32 points on Saturday on 21 shots, hitting 5-of-9 from three-point range. Felton was 5-of-14 overall and 0-of-4 from behind the arc. Nelson is performing exactly like the player that was an All-Star caliber performer last season before getting injured. He's doing it all for Orlando--creating off the pick-and-roll, while also acting as an ace spot-up shooter. It's a lethal combination of skills.

Charlotte's defense was again good enough to win. The Magic scored just 1.02 points per possession and were 9-of-30 from three-point range. The Bobcats just can't score enough to get past Orlando. Stephen Jackson was 6-of-18 on Saturday and missed a couple of big threes down the stretch that could have helped Charlotte get over the hump. Larry Hughes came off the bench to put up 14 points on six shots, but the rest of Charlotte's offensive output was pretty abysmal. The shooting woes were compounded by the fact that the Bobcats rebounded just 16 percent of their own misses.

Before fouling out, Howard became the focal point of the Orlando offense in the fourth quarter, posting up on several consecutive possessions. The result was a lot of fouls. He was 4-of-9 from the line in the last quarter, while Orlando was 13-of-19 as a team. Charlotte committed 13 fouls in the final quarter.

Orlando will attempt to wrap up the series in Monday's game five.

at Milwaukee 107, Atlanta 89 (Hawks lead 2-1)
Pace: 86 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Bucks 123.8, Hawks 103.0

You had to figure that Scott Skiles wouldn't let the Hawks off so easily. After watching his sputtering offense flail for two games on the road, Skiles' Bucks found points up and down the roster before an enthusiastic crowd at the Bradley Center, who hadn't seen playoff basketball in Milwaukee for a few years. Milwaukee had six players in double figures and four players--John Salmons, Brandon Jennings, Jerry Stackhouse and Luke Ridnour--tied to lead the team with just 11 field-goal attempts.

The Hawks were a no-show in this one, falling behind by 17 at the end of the first quarter and never really making a run. Josh Smith, a graduate of the Joakim Noah School of Public Relations, went 2-of-12 against the smothering defense of the Bucks. Atlanta was 20-of-41 in the paint and 3-of-15 from three-point range.

The Bucks found offense by exploiting matchups. A fifth of their shots came off of isolation plays and they put up 1.14 points on those sets, an excellent total. They also knocked down their spot-up jumpers, which doesn't hurt. By contrast, the Hawks got 19 percent of their shots on isolations, but averaged just a half-point per possession on those plays. The matchups were in Milwaukee's favor, for one game at least, which will happen when everybody is shooting well. Jennings and Salmons combined to go 14-of-22 working against Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson.

The first task for Atlanta coach Mike Woodson in attempting to recover from this one is just to get his team re-focused. Perhaps the relative ease with which the Hawks dispatched Milwaukee in the first two games was a factor, but the Hawks didn't look ready to play on Saturday. Perhaps this will turn out to be a series where the home teams dominate. Either way, the Bucks served notice that shorthanded or not, they are not going into the offseason quietly. Game four is on Monday.

at Oklahoma City 110, L.A. Lakers 89 (Series tied 2-2)
Pace: 90 possessions
Offensive Ratings: Thunder 122.3, Lakers 98.9

Finally, we had the kind of blowout you expect in a one-versus-eight series. Except, of course, it was the eight-seed doing the blowing out. The Lakers better use the home advantage they earned in the regular season to full advantage, because it's not going to be easy for them to get by the Thunder before the rabid fans in Oklahoma City.

Riding a crest wave of early energy, the Thunder went on a 17-3 run at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. It was never really a game after that. Keven Durant was conservative and efficient, scoring 22 points on just 12 shots, as Scott Brooks' team spread the wealth. The ultra-aggressive Thunder attacked L.A. from every angle and amassed 48 free-throw attempts on 30 Lakers fouls. Oklahoma City averaged 1.2 points on isolation plays, 1.5 points in transition and blew out the Lakers despite a complete inability to knock down spot-up jumpers. Simply put, the Thunder overwhelmed the Lakers athletically.

You could go on in this vein for awhile. Oklahoma City outscored the Lakers 24-2 on fastbreak points and led by as many as 29. The Lakers couldn't score in isolations or in the post. It was sheer dominance.

What comes next? This has become a fascinating series. The Lakers are the champs and we have to remind ourselves that the Rockets pushed L.A. to seven games in the first round last season. Until the Thunder gets a game at the Staples Center, the Lakers remain a firm favorite in the series. This just feels different, however. The Lakers are the top seed by virtue of what they did over the course of the entire season. The Thunder were a young team improving exponentially with each passing week, and were hitting a crescendo by season's end. If the Thunder is the next great Western Conference power, we might look back at this series as our first evidence of the changing of the guard. The Thunder may have surpassed the Lakers. Durant, Russell Westbrook Jeff Green--they're so young and we've seen Kobe Bryant and the Lakers overcome challenges so often in the past, that it's hard to imagine them losing in the first round. Right now, however, the vets are having an awfully tough time keeping up with the young guys.

The Lakers will attempt to re-group before game five, which is Tuesday in Los Angeles.

G3: Orlando 90, Charlotte 86 (Magic lead 3-0)
ORL  29  12  25  24 - 90
CHA  27  19  20  20 - 86
ORL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22  134.0  .824  .167  .059  .277  4.93
Second Quarter 21   56.6  .263  .385  .105  .330  3.29
Third Quarter  21  117.0  .500  .556  .136  .187  4.34
Fourth Quarter 24   99.4  .458  .000 1.083  .166  3.69
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     43   95.7  .528  .316  .083  .303  4.11
SECOND HALF    46  107.6  .485  .200  .471  .106  4.02
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          88  101.8  .507  .289  .271  .238  4.06
======================================================
CHA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22  124.8  .523  .300  .182  .046  4.31
Second Quarter 21   89.6  .500  .286  .188  .330  3.60
Third Quarter  21   93.6  .533  .000  .267  .234  4.97
Fourth Quarter 24   82.8  .286  .071  .381  .083  4.53
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     43  107.3  .513  .294  .184  .187  3.96
SECOND HALF    46   87.9  .389  .067  .333  .087  4.73
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          88   97.3  .453  .158  .257  .170  4.35
======================================================

G3: Milwaukee 107, Atlanta 89 (Hawks lead 2-1)
ATL  19  21  17  32 -   89
MIL  36  16  26  29 -  107
ATL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23   83.5  .350  .267  .250  .132  3.06
Second Quarter 20  106.5  .386  .429  .182  .101  4.25
Third Quarter  20   83.1  .288  .471  .077  .147  5.01
Fourth Quarter 23  136.3  .658  .286  .368  .170  5.58
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     42   94.2  .369  .345  .214  .118  3.65
SECOND HALF    44  111.5  .444  .417  .200  .086  5.27
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          86  103.0  .408  .377  .207  .139  4.48
======================================================
MIL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  158.2  .795  .000  .045  .088  5.50
Second Quarter 20   81.1  .350  .417  .100  .254  4.75
Third Quarter  20  127.0  .647  .333  .235  .195  5.96
Fourth Quarter 23  123.5  .500  .444  .381  .128  4.05
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     42  122.4  .583  .294  .071  .165  5.13
SECOND HALF    44  125.1  .566  .300  .316  .088  5.01
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          86  123.8  .575  .344  .188  .162  5.07
======================================================

G3: Oklahoma City 110, L.A. Lakers 89 (Tied 2-2)
LAL  17  25  22  25 -   89
OKC  29  26  31  24 -  110
LAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23   73.2  .386  .083  .000  .172  5.25
Second Quarter 22  113.7  .478  .400  .130  .091  5.11
Third Quarter  24   93.3  .447  .083  .263  .085  3.31
Fourth Quarter 21  118.0  .444  .250  .500  .142  5.42
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     45   92.9  .433  .259  .067  .133  5.18
SECOND HALF    45  105.0  .446  .150  .378  .060  4.36
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          90   98.9  .439  .213  .207  .122  4.77
======================================================
OKC          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  124.8  .553  .375  .421  .129  4.37
Second Quarter 22  118.3  .375  .357  .550  .136  4.75
Third Quarter  24  131.5  .429  .273  .619  .042  5.37
Fourth Quarter 21  113.3  .438  .154  .625  .047  3.34
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     45  121.6  .462  .364  .487  .133  4.56
SECOND HALF    45  122.9  .432  .227  .622  .024  4.35
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          90  122.3  .447  .283  .553  .089  4.46
======================================================

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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