Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Beating the Magic would have meant stealing a game in the standings from all those other Eastern Conference teams in front of the Bobcats. It would have been another statement game, perhaps Charlotte's most impressive win this year after their victory over Boston. But they lost in overtime, 107-102. Let's think about what a few individuals did in this game, and then we'll look at what lies ahead.
Dwight Howard is a beast. We know this. Of course, he's also doing what he's doing this year through double team after double team. The Bobcats are content to let Emeka do battle one on one for the most part, since that means they can pay proper attention to the rest of the Magic lineup. Okafor played nothing short of a heroic game before fouling out, given those circumstances. Howard torched everyone in his path for 45 points and 19 rebounds.
Don't think I'm taking a lot away from his performance tonight, because he was amazing, but I'm sure few other teams in the league, if any, will have the guts to put their center on an island against him. Howard's also breaching the Shaq Threshold, where he can do anything in the paint, no one can guard him alone because he physically overpowers them, and referees are afraid to call offensive fouls when he gets so physical and drives his shoulder into a set defender to push him out of the way (Shaq used/uses his butt) because it would deprive the league of a superstar at work.
Gerald didn't really contribute much on offense in his first game back, aside from a sweet alley oop finish. I suspect he was much better than what we could have expected from VladRad, especially on the defensive end. Hedo Turkoglu missed some time with a knee injury, but came back for most of the second half. When he was in, Gerald kept him in check. (As a parenthetical, I'd like to lodge a fan's complaint against Turkoglu's patented pushoff move as he drives. NO ONE in the NBA today gets away with pushing off like he does. He's got such a long stride that he can get through the lane quickly, anyway. When he pushes off, it's almost impossible to stop him.)
Raymond actually reached double digits in rebounds to go with his 22 points, which included two buzzer beaters. It's not necessarily a bad thing that our starting point guard led the team in boards, but when Gerald's at full strength, Felton won't have to pick up the slack.
The best sign of future success for the Bobcats was the solid bench play. DJ Augustin continues to be a scoring machine in his limited minutes. DeSagana Diop looks like the same guy everyone thought he was when Dallas traded him: above average defense, at times excellent, combined with a replacement level offensive game. Cartier Martin didn't score, but he comported himself well. If Brown is to be believed, Martin will stick the rest of the season, as this was the last day of his second ten-day contract. VladRad, meanwhile, did his thing on offense, and I've yet to identify a truly space cadet moment from him. Now that I've written it, it will probably come against Indiana.
Speaking of which, I'll be there, ready to see Danny Granger. Funny story about this upcoming game: I got a call from a Bobcats representative asking if I'd like to be in a hot dog eating contest at the game. I told him no, absolutely not... because I've already been in one and vowed never to do it again. In fact, if you want to read all about it, my story's here, with video and everything.
COUNTDOWN TO SEASON'S END:
We have to go 19-10 the rest of the way to have a shot at the playoffs.