Magic 89, Bobcats 77
It's not that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy doesn't believe some teams can flip a mental switch prior to the postseason. He just doesn't believe his team is one of them.
Dwight Howard had 26 points and 14 rebounds, Jameer Nelson added 15 points and the Magic did just enough for an 89-77 victory over the short-handed Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night. But with six games left in the regular season, Van Gundy knows his team is far from playoff-ready.
''We have to play at a higher level than we did to tonight. We have to,'' Van Gundy said. ''We've got to start getting serious about it. ... We're gonna hit the switch and have no power.''
Quentin Richardson also had 14 points off the bench for the Magic, who snapped a two-game losing streak by improving to 3-0 against the Bobcats this season. But many of the sluggish offensive tendencies that have plagued the Magic recently were still present against Charlotte, a concern for Magic team that has also been struggling with injuries lately.
The Bobcats, who began the night chasing Indiana for the East's final playoff spot, lost an opportunity to close the gap with just seven games to play. Dante Cunningham led Charlotte with 21 points and D.J. Augustin added 19.
The Magic were without reserve guards J.J. Redick, Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon, while the Bobcats played without starting forward Stephen Jackson, Tyrus Thomas and Shaun Livingston.
Bobcats coach Paul Silas said his team's ability to compete despite the missing pieces is the biggest positive he took away from Friday's loss.
''That's exactly what's driving us, even with being as short-handed as we are,'' said Silas, whose team fell two games back of the Pacers, an 89-88 winner over Milwaukee on Friday night. ''These guys are still playing with teams that we can beat.''
Kwame Brown said the lack of Jackson's presence made the biggest difference.
''It's very big,'' Brown said. ''That's a 20-point scorer. He makes the defenses honest. They have to guard him. They packed in the paint on defense and kind of dared our guys to shoot.''
The Bobcats shot just 45 percent for the game and 1 of 9 from the 3-point line.
Orlando took command of the game by doing the best job of overcoming the holes in its rotation. The Magic led by as many as 12 in the first half and took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Bobcats scored the first two baskets of the final period to get within 70-64, but a 12-2 spurt by the Magic made it 88-66 with under 5 minutes to play.
That effectively ended any hopes of a Charlotte comeback.
The Bobcats had their toughest time adjusting offensively in the first half as the Magic built a 49-39 lead.
Howard exploited Charlotte's frontcourt absences early, hitting 5 of 6 from the field and finishing with 11 points. Nelson had 11 of his own, while Bass and Richardson each had eight.
Howard also got in some rare rest in the opening 24 minutes as the Magic's cushion hovered around double digits. Seldom-used Malik Allen logged some minutes when Howard was on the bench.
Cunningham and Augustin had 11 points apiece for Charlotte, which shot 47 percent from the field. The Bobcats' bench produced only four points, though, and they were just 1 for 6 from beyond the arc.
The Magic had four 3s in the half and scored 13 points off eight turnovers.
Orlando shot a paltry 42 percent from the field for the game, but were saved by their nine 3s and 21 points off 13 turnovers. Orlando also had 12 turnovers of its own after committing just six in its previous outing against Atlanta.
They have little time to fix their problems, with a trip to Toronto on Sunday.
Forward Ryan Anderson said no one in the Magic's locker room is pushing the panic button, though.
''Just the defensive end I think we really need to work on,'' Anderson said. ''Our defensive rotations and I think we're turning the ball over a lot. Those are probably the two main focuses we need to work on for playoffs.
''I think that right now we're trying to get better,'' he said. ''We're not gonna have a lot of time to practice, the games are gonna be our practices.''
NOTES: Jackson was out with a strained left hamstring, Livingston with a bruised tailbone and Thomas with a sore left knee. ... Van Gundy said it is ''status quo'' regarding the lower abdominal strain that's kept G J.J. Redick sidelined 11 straight games. The team will know Monday or Tuesday what is possible for him the remainder of the season. ... Arenas sat out after missing Friday's morning shoot around because of ''chills,'' Van Gundy said. Duhon missed his second consecutive game with a ligament strain in his right thumb, but Van Gundy said an MRI exam revealed no broken bone. ''We were a little worried and we're hoping to get him back before the end of the regular season,'' Van Gundy said. ''I doubt he'll play on Sunday, but maybe late next week we'll be able to get him back. So that's a good thing.''