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April 27, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Orlando Sweeps Charlotte Away

by Kevin Pelton

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Orlando 99, at Charlotte 90 (Orlando wins series 4-0)
Pace: 83.5
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 120.6, Charlotte 105.9

The lone sweep of the first round of the 2010 playoffs belongs to the Orlando Magic. Thanks to the result below, Orlando will head into the semifinals with a significant rest advantage. The Magic did it despite series-long foul trouble for Dwight Howard, who fouled out after 23 minutes in Game Four. Orlando was so good with Howard on the floor (+15) and competitive enough with Marcin Gortat replacing him (-6) that it won comfortably nonetheless.

What the Magic has demonstrated in this series is its ability to win with a variety of players carrying the load. In Game Four, it was Vince Carter's 21 points that led the way. Attacking the basket off the pick-and-roll, Carter got to the free throw line nine times. Jameer Nelson was solid if not as spectacular earlier in the series and Rashard Lewis (four), Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus (three apiece) carried a perimeter attack that knocked down 13 three-pointers.

All told, it was an awfully good offensive effort against the league's best defense. I suspected late-game fouling might have inflated the numbers, but Orlando had a 117.0 Offensive Rating even before the final three minutes. Besides the hot shooting, the Magic turned the ball over just seven times all night, making the offense hard to stop.

As for Charlotte, I can't help but think back to my analysis at the time of the Stephen Jackson trade. My conclusion back then was this: "The long-term cost seems way too high for a Charlotte team that seems to be aspiring to lose in the first round of the playoffs with little hope of improving from there." As it turned out, I slightly underestimated how good the Bobcats could become. Charlotte was legitimately dangerous in the second half of the season, and had the Bobcats not matched up with what I consider the best team in the NBA, they might have had a chance to win a series. Still, Charlotte ultimately ends up with nothing but a first-round sweep for its trouble.

The Bobcats were the league's 11th-oldest team, and their first-round pick (Gerald Henderson) played just 355 minutes all season long. Charlotte won't have this year's first-rounder, which was top-12 protected and is headed to Minnesota (via Denver). The Bobcats have nearly $60 million committed for 2009-10 with Raymond Felton and Tyrus Thomas (restricted) due to become free agents. It's not out of the question that we've already seen the best this Charlotte team has to offer, and it wasn't good enough. That's depressing.

at Milwaukee 111, Atlanta 104 (Series tied 2-2)
Pace: 89.7
Offensive Ratings: Milwaukee 128.4, Atlanta 121.4

This was a shootout somewhat disguised by its slow pace. Look at those Offensive Ratings. The Bucks made a cool 60.8 percent of their two-point attempts, while Atlanta was 10-of-19 from beyond the arc. It's safe to say that winning with offense isn't exactly Milwaukee's M.O., which has to be troubling to the Hawks. Their philosophy of switching virtually every pick worked well enough in the regular season, aided by a big shooting guard and athletic big men. The Bucks, however, have been able to break the Atlanta defense down time and again, leading to open shots.

That can be credited first and foremost to Brandon Jennings, who has had a phenomenal series. Jennings made nine of his 13 two-point attempts and handed out six assists, turning the ball over just once in 34 minutes. Jennings was especially difficult to contain in the fourth quarter as the Hawks tried in vain to rally. John Salmons also created problems off the dribble, scoring an efficient 22 points on nine shot attempts and 10 trips to the free throw line.

While it wasn't a great night overall for Milwaukee beyond the arc, Carlos Delfino was on fire. The Argentinean, who had previously struggled in the postseason, knocked down six triples in eight attempts to give the Bucks' offense additional punch.

Atlanta wasted a pretty good night from Joe Johnson, who scored 29 points and handed out nine assists. Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford had strong performances as well. The Hawks were more than good enough on offense to win this game. What to do about the other end? Switching has been such a big part of Atlanta's identity all season long that I'm not sure it makes sense to change at this point. The Hawks simply have to do a better job of containing Jennings and hope that the rest of the Bucks aren't as potent in Atlanta as they have been in the last two games in Milwaukee.

at Phoenix 107, Portland 88 (Phoenix leads series 3-2)
Pace: 86.1
Offensive Ratings: Phoenix 131.0, Portland 107.1

This was another Phoenix win in a game that was, statistically, very slow-paced. In part, the Suns are slowing things down in the fourth quarter of blowout wins. In part, their series of offensive rebounds (15 in all, as compared to 20 Portland defensive boards) artificially deflated the pace. Beyond that, though, I think there's a lesson here. The Suns are an awfully good half-court offensive team when they execute and move the basketball, and they destroyed the Blazers' half-court defense in this game. Portland's Offensive Rating wasn't dramatically different than in Game Four (115.8), but Phoenix scored at a rate 30.6 points higher per 100 possessions.

There were a few reasons why Phoenix had so much success. First, the Blazers never got a chance to deploy any of their defensive tactics against the pick-and-roll they were presumably saving for the fourth quarter. By that point, the game was long over, so there was no reason to move Nicolas Batum on Steve Nash or begin switching. Second, Portland's defense was severely weakened by foul trouble to Marcus Camby. Amazing plus-minus stat of the night No. 1 is that the Blazers actually won Camby's 29 minutes of action, outscoring the Suns by a point in that span. By simple math, they were -20 in the other 19 minutes. Juwan Howard played just nine minutes, but during that span Portland was outscored by 13 points. The activity Howard showed in Game Four proved unsustainable, and he was slow to rotate and out of position. Howard did not grab a rebound, committing five fouls.

The third reason was Channing Frye's arrival in this series. 4-of-21 from beyond the arc in the first four games, Frye broke out for 20 points on 12 shooting possessions, making three triples and knocking down shots inside the arc as well. Amazing plus-minus stat of the night No. 2 (or three, if you count Howard) is that the Suns were +32 in Frye's 27 minutes, and -13 during the 12 minutes of action Jarron Collins saw. The Camby and Frye factors intersected in the first quarter. Portland started the game on fire (making some shots, granted, they were unlikely to continue hitting either way) and led 23-11 when Frye replaced Collins. A minute later, Camby left after drawing his second foul and Howard entered. From there through the end of the first half, Phoenix outscored the Blazers 46-24.

Jared Dudley deserves a tip of the cap too. He actually finished with a better plus-minus than Frye, the Suns outscoring Portland by 36 points during his 25 minutes on the floor. Dudley was equally hot, nailing five threes in nine attempts and scoring 19 points. The bench production--Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic played solidly, too--was a welcome change from the previous games in this series. Meanwhile, Nate McMillan got little from any of his reserves. That includes Brandon Roy, who was saddled with early foul trouble and finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting. McMillan curiously moved Rudy Fernandez ahead of Martell Webster in his rotation and was rewarded with a scoreless 15-minute outing from Fernandez, who struggled at both ends.

The biggest surprise of the night was the way the Suns dominated their offensive glass. They'd grabbed 27.6 percent of available offensive boards previously in the series, right around average. For long stretches of this game, however, the Blazers simply could not finish a stop with a defensive rebound. Camby was the only Portland player with more than three defensive rebounds, and LaMarcus Aldridge (two defensive boards in 40 minutes) was particularly suspect. The poor rebounding was also a symptom of bad defensive rotations that left the Blazers confused and out of position much of the night.

Portland gets the benefit of its home crowd and the motivation of an elimination game Thursday at the Rose Garden, but I'm not sure that's going to be enough. Now that Frye and Dudley are hitting on offense, the Suns have so many weapons the Blazers cannot possibly take everything away. Barring miraculous healing from Roy, who will certainly benefit from two days off in between the games, Portland doesn't have enough offense to outscore Phoenix. The Blazers will need to get stops, and that was far too much of a challenge in Game Five.

G4: Orlando 99, Charlotte 90 (Magic 4-0)
ORL  23  20  28  28 - 99
CHA  25  20  23  22 - 90
ORL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22  106.3  .500  .364  .150  .185  4.74
Second Quarter 19  102.6  .444  .182  .222  .103  3.99
Third Quarter  19  147.3  .625  .125  .500  .000  4.51
Fourth Quarter 23  119.7  .500  .000 1.154  .043  4.79
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     41  104.6  .474  .273  .184  .146  4.37
SECOND HALF    42  132.1  .569  .071  .793  .013  4.65
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          84  118.5  .515  .194  .448  .084  4.51
======================================================
CHA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22  115.5  .523  .182  .091  .092  6.14
Second Quarter 19  102.6  .500  .222  .333  .154  4.68
Third Quarter  19  121.0  .625  .200  .188  .158  6.36
Fourth Quarter 23   94.1  .306  .154  .611  .086  5.20
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     41  109.4  .514  .200  .189  .122  5.41
SECOND HALF    42  106.1  .456  .188  .412  .064  5.78
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          84  107.8  .486  .184  .296  .120  5.59
======================================================

G5: Phoenix 107, Portland 88 (Suns 3-2)
POR  28  19  19  22 -  88
PHX  27  30  27  23 - 107
POR          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  21  135.0  .667  .429  .000  .145  6.41
Second Quarter 19   99.2  .536  .000  .286  .209  3.90
Third Quarter  20   94.4  .469  .375  .250  .298  3.74
Fourth Quarter 22  100.5  .361  .250  .500  .091  4.99
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     40  117.8  .614  .200  .114  .175  5.15
SECOND HALF    42   97.6  .412  .300  .382  .107  4.38
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          82  107.4  .514  .257  .246  .183  4.76
======================================================
PHX          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  21  130.2  .500  .500  .227  .145  5.88
Second Quarter 19  156.6  .556  .455  .556  .052  4.41
Third Quarter  20  134.2  .615  .500  .846  .248  4.82
Fourth Quarter 22  105.1  .500  .250  .150  .183  4.67
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     40  142.9  .525  .476  .375  .100  5.15
SECOND HALF    42  119.0  .545  .263  .424  .116  4.75
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          82  130.6  .534  .429  .397  .159  4.94
======================================================

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

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

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