The Orlando Magic will try to halt a three-game skid and clinch the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference when they host the dismal Charlotte Bobcats, a team in serious danger of compiling the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard underwent surgery last Friday to repair a herniated disc and remove fragments in his back. His absence has probably eliminated a serious distraction in the Orlando locker room revolving around the center's trade demands as well as his deteriorating relationship with coach Stan Van Gundy.
That said, it's also magnified just how dominant the big man was as a defender. In their last eight games without the reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year, the Magic's opponents have averaged 99.4 points and shot a sizzling 49.2 from the floor.
Orlando's latest disappointment came on Sunday when Denver routed the Magic, 101-74. Ryan Anderson finished with 24 points and nine boards for Orlando, which needs just one victory over its last two contests to clinch the No. 6 seed in the East. The Magic will play Memphis on the road to close the regular season on Thursday.
Orlando is 3-7 overall without Howard.
"We simply can't guard anyone right now," Van Gundy said.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, moved even closer to setting the record for NBA futility on Monday during a 101-73 setback at Washington.
Gerald Henderson scored 19 points in the setback and D.J. Augustin chipped in 15. Tyrus Thomas, who was involved in an altercation with head coach Paul Silas after Charlotte's loss to Boston on April 15, received a flagrant foul type 2 and was ejected late in the first quarter for throwing an elbow at James Singleton.
"You gotta be mentally tough," said Thomas of the tumultuous end to the season. "I'm pretty sure most of the guys in the locker room have had worse happen to them in their life and in a season and you have to remember that sometimes."
The Bobcats are in the midst of a franchise-record 21-game losing streak. If they drop their final two games of the season they will finish with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. The team closes at home versus New York on Thursday.
Charlotte's current slide is the longest since Cleveland dropped an NBA-worst 26 in a row from Dec. 20, 2010-Feb. 9, 2011. Assured of having the worst record in the league, the Bobcats are in line to finish with a .106 winning percentage, which would be worse than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 9-73 for a winning percentage of .110.
The Bobcats are 2-13 all-time in Orlando.