What We'll Learn in Game 4 vs. Bobcats
Can the Magic close out?
It seems it is not a matter of if but when will Orlando close out this series. Sorry Charlotte, but no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. And I do not think it will be happening this series.
It is not that the Bobcats have not put up a good fight. They have done more than that in pushing and frustrating Dwight Howard and holding down a top-ranked offense.
Charlotte had a chance to get back in the series and did just about everything right to get a victory Saturday and could not finish. Orlando played extremely well without Howard in the final three and a half minutes and executed down the stretch both offensively and defensively. The Bobcats simply have not been able to keep up offensively at the end.
That is not to say Charlotte will not take Game Four. But believe it that Orlando wants to end this one quickly.
The Magic have often been criticized for lacking the killer instinct to close games. They are notorious for going on long scoring droughts and giving up big leads. It happened throughout the season. It certainly has happened in this Charlotte series as the team cut two 20-point deficits to single digits on the road in Orlando.
Stan Van Gundy is good at staying on his players and keeping them focused, but even he admits it might be normal to see some slippage in Game Four. I am sure he still will not be pleased.
But working for Orlando was the effort at the end of Game Three. It would have been easy for the Magic to fold up and be happy with a 2-1 lead after Howard fouled out. But instead they showed toughness and resiliency and got the job done to take absolute control of the series.
You can debate the merits of ending a series early or not, the bottom line is winning the series. The longer you let a team hang around the more confidence it can get. It would be better for the Magic to do everything they can to end the series in Charlotte on Monday.
Will Dwight Howard make the necessary adjustments?
Dwight Howard has not had the best series of his career. Charlotte has swarmed him and used physical post defense to frustrate him and draw him into foul trouble in all three games of this series. Stan Van Gundy has slowly gotten him more involved, but inevitably Howard has taken himself out with preventable fouls.
Van Gundy forced Howard to watch some tape of his fouls. We will see if he learned anything.
What Howard needs to do is much easier said than done. He needs to not get frustrated and not react to the grabbing and holding Charlotte he uses. Maybe he needs to flop some. Maybe he just needs to calmly go up to the referees during a timeout and in a quiet tone let them know what is going on. Turning toward the referees and yelling after a play is not going to help him gain their favor.
But it is all an inexact science. Howard just has to be smart and know what his foul situation is and dial back his aggression on defense accordingly. He needs to know when he can challenge and afford to pick up a foul and when he needs to just threaten and get in good rebounding position or allow -- gasp -- a layup or close shot.
He has been so dominant defensively, he just has to cut out the silly frustration fouls that keep knocking him out of these games. Charlotte is going to attack him and he will continue to get fouls that way. But whatever the cost, he needs to be on the floor.
What will Charlotte's last gasp look like?
The Magic may have very well seen the Bobcats' best shot on Saturday. Charlotte was aggressive defensively and forced a ton of turnovers. The crowd was in a frenzy and that did not help. The Bobcats also attacked and kept coming -- that is until the fourth quarter. Even with all that Orlando found a way to win on the road and give itself a chance for the sweep.
But the Bobcats are not a team to go quietly into that good night. This team works hard and is unrelenting, even if it may ultimately lack the talent offensively to win this series.
With its back against the wall, expect Charlotte to throw everything at Orlando in Game Four. Expect to see the half court trap that was moderately effective in Game Three. Expect to see increased ball pressure, especially on Jameer Nelson. Expect to see even harder doubles on Dwight Howard in the post.
Gerald Wallace did not earn the nickname "Crash" for no reason. The guy is an absolute workhorse who will sprint at all points of the game. His three blocks on layups in Game Two showed his never-say-quit attitude.
Wallace disappeared in the late stages of Game Three. Do not expect him to disappear in Game Four. He will be a constant presence and will be looking to grab every rebound, just like Howard will. He will test every fiber of will in whoever he guards (probably Vince Carter).
Stephen Jackson is not quite the effort man as Wallace, but he is no stranger to working hard. And he will put in his best effort.
Charlotte is a team of effort and now the team's season is on the line. The Bobcats will be focused and will be doing anything possible to win. The question is whether it will be enough and whether it will work. Orlando has to be ready early for Charlotte's last gasp. If the Magic get up big early, that might be it.