It’s baaaack. The NBA has finally tipped off, if only for preseason action. That means LeBron and Shaq are playing together, AI and the Grizzlies aren’t, and Charles Barkley is back to being paid to murder the English language. On Tuesday, Bobcats fans from across the Carolinas, across the country, and around the world (just go on the forums and take a look at our international flavor!) were thrilled as our beloved Charlotte Bobcats were back in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio. Thursday brought the ‘Cats back to North Carolina, but this time in Greensboro where they played the Hornets, and then tonight, Saturday, again against the Cavs but this time in Charleston, South Carolina, the second and final of the “Taste of the Carolinas” tour.
While preseason means starters are given bench minutes, this still gives us a look at the team before the season and a good look at the bench. With Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw out, Vladimir Radmonivic and Nazr Mohammed joined regulars Raymond Felton, Raja Bell, and Gerald “Crash” Wallace in the starting lineup. Crash wasn’t his usual self in this one, playing ten minutes and going 0-5 from the field, although he did have two free throws. The real story in this one, though, was center Nazr Mohammed. Going up against Shaq, Nazzy had 10 points on 5 of 7 feild goals, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and no fouls in 18 minutes. In 16 minutes, Shaq had 6 points, 3 boards, and 1 block with 3 fouls. Which one of those looks like the one worthy of the SportsCenter highlights? Well, tell that to ESPN. Not a single Bobcat highlight was shown on ESPN. Not even Alexis Ajinca’s alley-oop. Speaking of the Frenchman, he was also impressive. In 19 minutes, he went 3-6, scored 9 points, had 7 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block. And this wasn’t even his best game. Other notable stories were Flip Murray, Raja Bell, and Gerald Henderson making the shooting guard trio’s total from the field a miserable 6-24, Derrick Brown scoring 10 points in just under 23 minutes, and Stevie Graham looking like a real energy guy off the bench for Larry Brown. After the game, Larry Brown spoke about the replacement referees. “They’re learning,” Brown said. “It’s not an easy game to officiate and I understand that. I’m on them because all you do as a coach is want consistency. They don’t need to be hearing it from me, but I want my young kids to have a chance to win. We’ve got a lot of good people who are going to try and train these guys. They’re doing the best they can. Hopefully it gets settled and everybody benefits.” Brown received a technical foul from the crew, and may well be a regular offender this season.
Thursday brought Emeka Okafor back to the team that traded him this offseason, although he was sidelined with an injury, as was Tyson Chandler, who he was swapped for. Before the game, Mek said he was “shocked” to be traded from the team where he was the foundation, even though Larry Brown said at the end of last season he wanted Okafor to focus more on basketball and was repeatedly on Mek’s case during the year. But enough of that, on to what matters. The game redeemed Crash from his poor showing two days before, having him put up 14 points, 2 boards and a steal in 24 minutes. While Nazr Mohammed wasn’t as impressive at first, putting up only 4 points, his defensive presence was impressive, with four rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and +/- of +17, compared to backup center Gana Diop’s -8. The next highest on the team were Ray Felton and Derrick Brown at +9. Whatever Nazr did in the offseason, it seems to have paid off in gold. After playing just under 14 minutes, Felton left with a minor injury and did not return, but was back in the linuep against the Cavs. DJ Augustin manned the point from then on, scoring 22 points on just 2 field goals, shooting 18 free throws and making 16. Augustin said, “Coach told us to drive and not settle for jump shots, and that’s what I tried to do.” It didn’t hurt that the replacement officials were whistle happy, calling 77 fouls in all. Swingman Stevie Graham scored 15 points and 6 boards along with an assist, and Derrick Brown once again had 10 points.
Tonight it was back to playing Lebron, Shaq, and the rest of the Cavs, this time in Charleston. However, thanks to a bunch of greedy tv executives, most of South Carolina and a good deal of North Carolina couldn’t even see the game, per usual. Crash set the tone for the Bobcats in the first half and part of the second, dropping 18 points and grabbing 5 boards and a steal. But this was The Alexis Ajinca show. Lexy came into his own in the second half, putting down 15 points, 7 rebounds, a steal and two blocks. But it wasn’t just the stats, it was how he did it. Ajinca scored via mid-range jump shot, hook shot, alley-oop, dunk, lay-up, and putback. He was all over the Cavs bench, and if the Bobcats get half of this from him in the season, the worries about power forward depth are totally unnecessary. This kid has some real talent, and he’s finally starting to show it. Maybe he won’t be the tallest person in Maine this winter after all! In other notes from the game, Raja Bell and Flip Murray are still looking for their stroke, if you find it, please call 704-BOBCATS right away, they are offering a reward. Just Kidding. I think. Also, Stevie Graham came back down to earth a little tonight, with just 2 points, 4 rebounds, a block, and 5 fouls and turnovers. Shannon Brown, anyone? Anyways, I’m very encouraged by the first three games, and I’m looking forward to the next bunch.
- For those of you trying to listen to WFNZ’s broadcast of Bobcats games online, according to someone at WFNZ, that’s because the NBA and the Bobcats own the rights to all games broadcast online, and no othe entity can legally put the games online, whether in audio or video format. Why the game is being broadcast locally but not on NBA.com, who knows.
- Before the Cavs game, the Bobcats exercised their option for 2010-2011 on DJ Augustin’s contract. Larry Brown said “I think it’s a no-brainer.” The Bobcats have until after the third regular season game to decide whether to exercise Alexis Ajinca’s option.
- The Bobcats are hosting a free Open Practice on Thursday the 15th. You can sit anywhere you want outside the first five rows, and all who show up get a free soda and popcorn.
- Monday the Bobcats head to Atlanta to face the Hawks, then are off until the weekend when they head to Los Angeles to play part in the Lakers preseason tournament. They come back to Charlotte to play host to the Bucks on the 20th, then the Grizzlies on the 23rd, then the preseason is over and it’s time to get going.