Bobcats face tall task of containing Superman

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — What Tyson Chandler really loves about the playoffs is that he can zero in one team, pouring over video to learn opposing players' strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.

"You sit there and you study your guy," the Charlotte Bobcats center said. "You know that guy almost better than he knows himself."

So how's that horror DVD starring Dwight Howard of Orlando looking?

"It really doesn't matter how much you watch," Chandler said, laughing.

The player they call Superman is standing in the way of the Charlotte's hopes for a first-round upset in the franchise's first playoff appearance. The four-time All-Star is a matchup nightmare for the Bobcats, who have had little success slowing him down since just missing out on drafting him in 2004.

At 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, Howard is a unique mix of brute strength and athleticism. He's averaging 18.3 points, an NBA-best 13.2 rebounds and shooting an league-high 61.2 percent from the field.

"We're looking at one of the best players in the league and one of the best players to come into the league in a long, long time. I think he's phenomenal," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "So if you don't have big guys that can play — a lot of big guys — you're in trouble. You can't go small against them because there's nobody that's small that can play him and stay out of foul trouble. You need bodies."

That's one thing Charlotte has. The Bobcats start veteran Theo Ratliff, who turns 37 on Saturday, at center. But behind him are Chandler, Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop.

Add up that up and that's 24 fouls to use if Charlotte wants to be physical.

"The biggest thing for me is just not to get frustrated," Howard said. "They're going to beat on me, pull me, do whatever they have to do to get me out of my game. I just have to be strong and understand what our mission is, and that's to win."

With Howard just a 59 percent free-throw shooter, Hack-a-Howard may be Charlotte's best option to have a chance in the best-of-seven series, which starts Sunday. Howard made just 3 of 10 free throws in Charlotte's victory at Orlando last month.

"You don't want to just play the foul game," Ratliff insisted Friday. "At a point in the game, you might try to do that. But you want to play him aggressive and make him take tough shots. That's what we intend to do."

Chandler feels the key is to keep Howard out of his comfort zone, something the Bobcats did in the third meeting between the teams in January. Howard was held to 10 points on 4 of 11 shooting. Trouble was, he grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked seven shots in the Magic's overtime win.

"You've got to keep him out of the paint," Chandler said. "If he's making moves and he's shooting shots outside of that paint, we can live with that."

What makes Orlando so dangerous, however, is if you focus entirely on Howard with double teams or a zone, it leaves the perimeter open. And the Magic have deadeye 3-point shooters in Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus.

"If we're going to win you've got to figure out how to keep them off the 3-point line without allowing Dwight to get 100 points," Brown said. "We've got to keep them out of transition. In transition it's hard to find their shooters and they set a record for 3-point shots. They have so many ways to beat you."

Howard's presence is also a main reason the Magic allow opponents to shoot an NBA-low 43.8 percent. Howard leads the league with 2.78 blocks per game.

But Charlotte may be more equipped to face Orlando this than in the past, when Emeka Okafor often struggled in the matchup of the top two picks in the 2004 draft. Since Okafor was traded, the Bobcats have more bodies and options.

But sometimes all defenses prove futile against Howard.

"He's such an incredible athlete," Chandler said. "He's always balanced on the floor and he's always getting to his spots where he feels comfortable. You've got to keep him out of those spots. It's a tough task and I'm looking forward to it."


Associated Press Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.