The Orlando Magic are struggling through their worst stretch of the season, and their NBA-best road record has taken a slight hit. A trip to Charlotte may not help them bounce back.
Losers of three straight, the Magic look to end their road woes against the Bobcats when the teams continue their season series Friday night.
Southeast Division-leading Orlando (16-7) is second in the Eastern Conference only to Boston (18-2), and it owns an NBA-best 11-3 road record. The Magic, though, have lost three straight for the first time this season, including a 100-86 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
Orlando, which has dropped four of six overall after a 14-3 start, will end its two-game road trip at a venue that has always given it problems. The Magic are 1-5 all-time at Charlotte Bobcats Arena despite averaging 100 points per game there.
A lackluster offense, meanwhile, has been Orlando's biggest issue over the last two games. The Magic have averaged 86.5 points while shooting 36.7 percent from the field in the losses. They shot a season-low 33.8 percent versus the Bucks.
Orlando has been particularly ineffective in the first quarter over its last two games, scoring a total of 39 points. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy believes part of the problem is that teams aren't giving Dwight Howard much room to maneuver.
"We've lost several games now lately in the first quarter," Van Gundy said. "We're struggling offensively because people are going to take away all Dwight's dunks now. If he does catch it deep, they're going to foul him or they are going to make him play off the lane."
Howard had 20 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday for his league-leading 19th double-double, but is shooting 46.7 percent (14-for-30) from the free-throw line in his last two contests. Howard has also had a double-double in each of his last 12 games against the Bobcats (8-12), averaging 19.8 points and 15 rebounds.
He will face Charlotte forward Emeka Okafor in a matchup of players who were selected with the first two picks of the 2004 draft. Okafor is coming off one of his best games of the season, as he finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in Charlotte's 108-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
The Bobcats avoided their ninth loss in 10 games partially thanks to some in-game lineup tinkering. With Jason Richardson struggling, Charlotte coach Sam Vincent put in two point guards, centers Primoz Brezec and Ryan Hollins and forward Gerald Wallace for a combination that helped the Bobcats outscore the Clippers 36-17 in the third quarter.
Point guards Raymond Felton and Jeff McInnis combined for 34 points and 14 assists, as Charlotte shot 50 percent from the field for the first time this season.
"With me and Jeff out there, you have two ballhandlers and no matter who has the ball, they can push the ball down the court," Felton said.
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