Gametime: 7:00 p.m. EST
Perhaps the most damaging loss to the Bobcats' 6-seed hopes came last week in an overtime disappointment against the squalid 21-54 Orlando Magic. That same night, the 6-seed Wizards beat the Pacers and added a full game to their separation between them and Charlotte.
The gap is now at two games, hardly an inconsequential or an insurmountable difference, but the Bobcats cannot afford to lose games to teams like Orlando this late in the season with a better playoff seeding on the line.
Tonight the Bobcats will get their chance for vengeance, if you want to call it that, or simply just their chance to even things out after last time.
I would think limiting Nikola Vucevic will be a main goal after his 24-point, 23-rebound performance against Charlotte last week. His offensive rebounding was a major outlier against Charlotte's top defensive rebounding squad, so I'd expect Clifford to focus on stronger boxing out and more energy on those rebounding opportunities.
Another problem last time was how much Charlotte's defense fouled. That must be rectified.
On the individual side, the Magic have a fairly decent backcourt. Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo are both rather talented shooters. Nelson is terrific out of the pick and roll to create space for his jump shot and Afflalo can spot up and do a little shot creation of his own.
This game also features two of last summer's top-five picks from the NBA Draft: Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller.
Oladipo gets heavy minutes for Orlando off the bench with nearly 32 a game, but hasn't quite lit the league aflame like some may have thought. He's still had plenty of flashes of his potential, and not just defensively. On a team as bad as the Magic and in that market, he's not going to get much coverage anyway. Regardless, Oladipo's certainly one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year. Averaging 14 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists, he's showcased his wide skill set over the season thus far. Unfortunately, Oladipo's struggled with his shooting range a bit and has had a bunch of turnovers.
Zeller has also come off the bench for much of his rookie season, starting in only the Bobcats' previous game. He had a disastrous start to the season, looking stymied by the NBA's smarter and more talented defenses for months on end. Since then, Zeller has come on strong as of late, recently bringing up his field goal percentage above 40. He's looked much more comfortable as the Bobcats' offense has settled in. Zeller picks his spots better and can utilize his quickness and springy hops better on a spacious floor and it's shown. With the Bobcats on the verge of the playoffs, Zeller has developed into his little niche role off the bench as a frenetic and energetic rebounder with a little added scoring punch in limited minutes. The Bobcats didn't want to give Zeller a bite more than he could chew, and he's rounded out into a better player as he's gathered himself late in the season.