NBA Playoff Recap - East First Round - Game 4
(2) Orlando 99, (7) Charlotte 90 - Magic win series, 4-0
In four games, the Orlando Magic's superstar center proved to be a relative non-factor. In four games, Coach Stan Van Gundy's team still managed to sweep the Charlotte Bobcats out of the playoffs.
Those statements tell the tale of how balanced and fearsome the Magic truly are. The defending Eastern Conference champions look like the team to beat on one side of the NBA divide. While the Western Conference is a much more complicated puzzle, the East is likely to remain in Northern Florida... at least if this first-round series is any indication.
Howard - the imposing physical force who won another NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2010 - is also a credible offensive presence simply because of his size and muscularity near the rim. Yet, in four games against Charlotte, "Superman" scored just 39 total points. Why was this the case? It wasn't that the Bobcats - with an assemblage of big men named Tyson Chandler, Nazr Mohammed, and Theo Ratliff - intimidated Howard. Not even Shaquille O'Neal has the upper hand on No. 12 in the paint.
No, the reason why Howard struggled so much in this series was that he didn't maintain his discipline or his composure. Despite the pleadings of Van Gundy, big man guru Patrick Ewing, and the rest of the Orlando coaching staff, Howard couldn't stay out of foul trouble against the Bobcats. By picking up a total of 22 fouls in four games, Howard - who had at least 5 fouls in all four games and fouled out in his two roadies against Charlotte - was simply not on the floor for long stretches of time.
In this fourth game on Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, Howard played only 23 minutes and scored just six points. Against Cleveland or in a hypothetical NBA Finals matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, those numbers will be fatal for Orlando. Against Charlotte, however, they didn't prevent the Magic from closing down the Bobcats and ending a successful season for second-year head coach Larry Brown, who took his eighth separate NBA team to the playoffs in 2010.
Orlando was able to win in spite of Howard because the Magic simply possess too many good 3-point shooters. Rashard Lewis drained four treys for the East's No. 2 seed, while Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus hit three bombs to give Orlando 13 total triples for the game. Considering that the final margin of victory was nine points, the multiplicity of 3-pointers truly made a difference.
Charlotte can't have too many regrets after making the postseason for the first time in franchise history, but the Bobcats at least wanted to win their first playoff game. They failed because Stephen Jackson - the hero of Golden State's 2007 upset of Dallas in the first round of that year's NBA Playoffs - didn't bring his best stuff to the building. Jackson hit only 30 percent of his shots for the series (14 of 47), and in this game, he was even worse. "Captain Jack" went 2 of 11 from the field and committed four turnovers in 39 empty minutes. Orlando received blended team contributions, but if Jackson had managed to produce a high-level game, this series might still be going.
As it is, the question in this series was not if Orlando won, but when. Now that the Magic have taken care of business with considerable quickness, they've earned a great deal of rest for their second-round series. They'll be even tougher to beat as the playoffs roll on.
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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