The No. 2 Orlando Magic took a 3-0 series advantage over the No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats, narrowly besting Larry Brown’s team 90-86 Sunday.
It seems that the Magic will have no problem dispatching the Bobcats and may very well do so in four games. If Orlando wins, it will face the winner of the series between the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, and completing the first-round sweep will award them with some valuable extended rest before the conference semifinals.
In this first round, Orlando has played very well. While the Magic arguably have much more talent than the Bobcats do, Orlando won Game 3 in Charlotte, where the Bobcats lost only nine teams throughout the entire regular season.
One of the big stories for Orlando has been the play of Jameer Nelson. In the three games so far, Nelson has averaged 22.5 points (including 26 points in only 22 first-game minutes), including 52 percent three-point shooting and 92 percent from the charity stripe. Raymond Felton and the others have been totally unable to defend him, and Stan Van Gundy has taken notice.
Nelson missed most of last year’s playoffs because of injury, deferring to Rafer Alston to start at the 1-guard. Nelson did return for the Finals against L.A., but he didn’t start.
Could Nelson’s healthy play in the postseason be the key to Orlando’s winning a championship? It very well could be.
All that said, the Magic have had their problems this postseason. Those issues most clearly manifest themselves through the play of Dwight Howard and Vince Carter, the primary and secondary scores for Orlando, respectively.
Carter is shooting just 32.5 percent from the field against the Bobcats and, in 12 attempts, hasn’t hit a triple. With only 13.7 points per game, he needs to step up his play if he aspires to help the team defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers and whomever else they face.
Howard has been an absolute menace on the defensive end of the ball. In three games, he has 18 blocks and 24 rebounds in only 27.7 minutes per contest.
That’s a problem, though. He has not yet eclipsed the 30-minute mark this postseason. He had five personal fouls in the first two games and fouled out after just 26 minutes in Game 3. He needs to refine his defense to stay on the floor and help his team win.
Furthermore, his offensive output has been lacking. Taking only seven shots a game, Howard has scored 11 points per contest. He is also struggling mightily from the line, shooting 11-28 on free throws.
Sure, the Magic are winning. They’re beating a respectable Bobcats team with relative ease. But unless they get their two biggest stars on track, they shouldn’t even think about winning the 2010 NBA title.