Pump Up Music:
Aladdin -- "A Whole New World" Rick Ross -- "Hustlin'"
The Big Picture: The Charlotte Bobcats have a miniscule chance of winning this series from the Orlando Magic. To be successful, they've got to execute to the best of their abilities, and good fortune must rain upon them in torrents. Any analysis that results in a prediction that the Cats are likely to win the series is based on wishful thinking, but if no one ever wished upon a star, we'd never even reach the clouds.
Here's how to rationalize a Bobcats path to victory.
Point 1. Orlando has the fourth-best per-possession offense in the NBA and the third-best per-possession defense. The Cats' strength is defense, too. The Magic play at about an average pace, while the Bobcats tend to walk the ball up the floor and grind out possessions. Both of those elements will serve to keep scores low, which tremendously favors the underdog. With fewer possessions and fewer total points, there's a greater chance of fluky variance, of this stretch of games being the ones during which Gerald Wallace morphs into Shawn Kemp (circa 1996), Stephen Jackson finds his inner Larry Bird (circa 1986), Dwight Howard becomes DeAndre Jordan, and Jameer Nelson starts channeling Earl Boykins.
Point 2. The Bobcats are better now than their total-season statistics indicate. The difference is marginal, but noteworthy. The Cats finished second in the league in blocked shots, ninth in the league in opponents' FG% at the rim, and second in the league in opponents' eFG% from three. What does all that mean? It means that even though roughly half of the minutes at the center position were played by Nazr Mohammed and Boris Diaw, they still managed to put together elite defensive totals for the entire season. Neither Mohammed nor Diaw is exactly a defensive powerhouse at center, but that's pretty much all Theo Ratliff and Tyson Chandler do, and they're getting the lion's share of minutes at center now. Beware underestimating this defense. With a great shotblocker behind them at all times, Crash 'n Jax are free to be a little more aggressive on the perimeter, improving all aspects of the on-ball defense.
Ft.Mill Bobcat -- The critical period to look at is January through March 2010. The team records from January 1 to March 31 are: Magic 29 – 14, Bobcats 27 – 17.
Point 3. I know it seems like Orlando got a little bit better this year, and it's entirely possible, even likely, that letting Hedo Turkoglu go and trading for Vince Carter was the most correct thing to do (I love me some Courtney Lee, but I also love me some Ryan Anderson). However, last year, Hedo was what made them a special team, not just an excellent team. With Hedo, Lee, and Nelson out there splitting ballhandling duties, they presented an unconventional matchup issue for every team that faced them. Don't get me wrong: I'd be happy to have Vinsanity, Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, and J.J. Redick as my team's wing corps, but I'd trade that in a heartbeat for 2009 Hedo, 2010 Barnes, 2010 Pietrus, and 2010 Redick. The Cats know who's going to be bringing the ball up. They know who's going to be covering which guys. They know how they're going to defend the Magic offense. There will be no harrowing help-or-don't-help decisions when Hedo drives the lane. Orlando may have simplified what they do to their own benefit, but it made them easier to defend for elite defenses, too.
maverick24 -- The truth is, without Stephen Jackson the Bobcats aren’t here right now, and without Stephen Jackson the Bobcats have no chance in this series.
Keys to Victory: I mean this with all sincerity, and with no irony: we need luck. Lots of it. As much as I love finding clarity amid the blizzard of chance, it still remains that the Bobcats' talent level is lacking in comparison to the Magic's, and a series of things we can't predict will have to happen for the Cats to pull out the win. So, luck it is. Please.
StudMuffin15 -- Throughout the season, few teams played in a zone defense, but when they did, the Cats showed that they have no idea about playing zone-offense. If the Magic, or any other team, decides to use a zone, then the Cats need to learn on the fly how to beat it.
Newsinz -- We have to convert Superman’s potential dunks into trips to the free throw line.
Ourdaywillcome -- The Orlando Magic are a good enough team to take advantage of any lapse in concentration their opponents give them. Our 3-headed Cerberus at the Center position will have to lead the charge by controlling the paint and forcing the Magic to rely on their outside shooting. Any time you see Vince Carter able to penetrate the passing lanes at will you can expect the result to be a Bobcats loss – and we’re only allowed 3 of them.
Jew Unit -- I think the most important matchup is going to be Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw against Rashard Lewis. Diaw is significantly less mobile than Thomas, and with a long range shooting four, we could see a lot of a Felton-Wallace-Jackson-Thomas-random center lineup because I feel Diaw will get trashed by Lewis.
Details That May Interest .08% of You: Contrary to popular belief, if you search for "Ron Jeremy" on Basketball-Reference.com, you will not be taken to Stan Van Gundy's page.
alwalte2 -- Redick’s middle name is "Clay," the origin of which is that his dad is a successful potter. (He also will be the most hated player in this series)
Prediction: Magic in 6
Plurality RoF Reader Prediction (as of this post): Bobcats in 6
Note on future projects: Finally, I know I said I'd do a podcast before the Cats' playoff games, but I was discouraged by the experimental one done earlier this year. The point was not to give me another soapbox, which it was that first time and which I'm afraid it'd be again, but to get you more involved, to make it easier for folks to get their voices heard by using another medium. So, let's try something else.
Those of you going to Game 3 at the Cable Box, I will be there with the Official Girlfriend of Rufus on Fire, and we will bring a camera in order to take one picture: the view from our seats. I'll ask again closer to game time, but if you're going, please consider taking a photo of the view from your seat during the game, because I think it'd be interesting to put all those pictures side by side. (Idea shamelessly lifted from the SB Nation New York Mets blog, Amazin' Avenue.)