I find the start to this season to be not just surprising but unfathomable. Last month if you had told me that the Bobcats would start the season 4-3 with a three-game winning streak, I would have assumed it was a sick joke. Incidentally, this also would have been my response if you’d told me they were remaking Red Dawn. But both events are now happening, and given their improbability, I’m worried that it’s more than a coincidence. What if our world and that of Red Dawn are now fusing? I half expect to look out my office window and see parachuting Russian, Cuban, and Nicaraguan soldiers in vaguely racist dark skin paint hit the ground and gun down my boss while he’s giving me a lesson on Genghis Khan. Fortunately, if this happens, I’ll know just what to do: load up my car full of Coke, get used to the taste of deer blood, and put the fate of the free world in the hands of Charlie Sheen.
On the other hand, I certainly don’t expect this to last, because circumstances have been hugely favorable to the Bobcats lately. Starting with injuries: the Mavericks were without Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, the Wizards were without John Wall and Nene, and the Timberwolves…well, there have been healthier teams emerging from plane crashes. Beyond the fortunate injury rashes, other strange stuff has been happening. For the season, Charlotte is ranked 24th in opponent 3-Pt %, but for the last 3 games they’ve been 4th. And I am here to tell you it is NOT because they’ve done a better job closing out the other teams’ shooters. Troy Murphy and his mid-80s feathered haircut were so wide open that he could have built a time machine and transported himself back to the set of Bryan Adams’s video for “Run to You.” Most Washington players, meanwhile, would rather pass a kidney stone than the ball, resulting in a 5-for-31 three-point chuck-fest. As for Minnesota, I think all lines of any kind in that game were simply contaminated. Both teams shot a combined 9-35 on 3’s and 29-51 on free throws.
This brings me to the other stream of good luck that’s moving the Bobcats forward, much like Patrick Swayze’s pee in a car radiator: opponent FT%. Currently the Bobcats are #1 in the NBA at “defending” free throw shots. Opponents are hitting just 65.8% against them, low-lighted by Minnesota’s 20-for-37 last night. This is obviously a total fluke that has nothing to do with coach Mike Dunlap’s claims that the Bobcats are “learning how to win,” and considering that they have a 2-point victory, a 1-point victory, and an overtime win, free throws have obviously been a critical factor.
That the Minnesota game came down to a single possession was actually kind of embarrassing. Missing arguably 5 of their best 7 players for much of the season, Minnesota has been forced to rely on major contributions from the likes of Dante Cunningham. To his credit, so far Cunningham has been acquitting himself even better than he did in front of the Delaware County DA office. In fact, I shudder to think what would have happened if he had applied the same discipline and focus he’s shown on the basketball court to pellet guns; we might have had a real bloodbath. Anyway, the Bobcats saw a 14-point lead evaporate in barely four minutes. Among the bloopers were Ramon Sessions bricking two free throws, Tyrus Thomas shoving himself out of bounds as if there were a locker waiting for him there, and Reggie Williams sending Chris Webber back into therapy by calling a timeout that the team didn’t have. Fortunately, Kemba Walker ended the insanity with a jumper with less than a second to play.
And if all that weren’t enough, the Bobcats traded Matt Carroll for the second and hopefully final time! Who’d we get in return? The correct answer would be Not Matt Carroll, but I’ll also accept Hakim Warrick. Somewhat bizarrely, ESPN.com’s Tom Paine listed Warrick in his group of “most overrated players” yesterday, to which I ask, who on earth is overrating Hakim Warrick? Who is even rating him? To be honest, I didn’t even know what team he was on, and he just makes $4 million for this year with a team option for next. Warrick is clearly not the second coming of Jimmer Fredette, so I’m totally flummoxed by Paine’s assertion. I know Warrick’s no C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, or Jennifer Grey when it comes to toughness and defense, but his PER has hovered in the 15-16 range throughout his whole career. So even if Warrick plays 10 minutes a night and then betrays us all by swallowing a tracking device, it’s more than Carroll could ever give. Wolverines! I mean, Bobcats!
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