Some things are worth forgetting. That one day where not much went your way. An outcome you had no control over or perhaps didn’t really matter. Any song by Coldplay. You know, the things that carry little to no value to you going forward.
If you’re the Charlotte Bobcats, perhaps a 1-4 road trip is something that just might fit that bill. Certainly, a trip that includes two embarrassing blowouts looks a lot like something that should be lit on fire, buried in a 12-foot hole and read several rites of last passage to make sure it never rears it’s ugly head again. As tempting as forgetting all that is, there are some valuable things to be taken from this trip out west.
Before loading up the wagons and heading left on the map, Charlotte showed quite a bit of improvement. A large part of this comes from the philosophy and systems installed by new head coach Steve Clifford. He clearly values defense and that is apparent when watching his team play.
Another reason for the early success? The competition, or lack thereof. Entering January 5th, the East is sporting a winning percentage of .443 to the West’s .556. Even more specifically, in the six games prior to Charlotte’s road trip plus their home game with Oklahoma City, their opponents have a winning percentage of .364. By comparison, the OKC/road trip teams are winning at a .566 clip. That’s a stark difference and a simple reason as to the struggles Charlotte went through on this trip.
The good news? This trip has ended and the next six games are against teams putting up a .394 winning percentage. Simply knowing that this trip is over is worth remembering, as is an upcoming schedule that Charlotte can take advantage of.
Something else to keep out of that aforementioned 12-foot hole is the opportunity for the players themselves to truly understand how small their margin for error is. Defensive intensity and efficiency along with high rebounding performance are the calling cards Clifford has set forth as the winning formula for the offensively challenged Bobcats. Again, in the six games prior to this road trip (and Oklahoma City game), the Bobcats’ defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) was 99.7 according to stats.nba.com. During the following six games? The defensive rating skyrockets to 108.4. That’s a tough road to travel for a team that only has an offensive rating of 97 for the season.
This is part of the reason why Clifford makes defense such a priority and has publicly volunteered that these tenants for winning are not being followed recently. The strongest evidence of this learning opportunity came from both the Atlanta and Utah games. Both those contests were within Charlotte’s grasp, but inattention to Clifford’s cruxes of winning allowed defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory. Sometimes the best way to learn is the hard way, and both those games bring forth evidence that Charlotte is enrolled in at least a few classes at Hard Knocks University.
The final two games of this trip offered a valuable big picture look for both front office and team alike in regards to how Charlotte’s future could unfold.
Obviously, the 30 point loss to Portland seems to be a viable candidate to be strapped to a rocket and sent into deep, deep space never to be thought of again. However, that outing offered two examples of success that Charlotte could look to replicate in the near and not-so-near future.
The “Captain Obvious” lesson Portland taught was that three point shooting is rather important. Charlotte has long suffered a lack of long-range snipers and the those missing pieces (along with the sub-par defense Charlotte employs against three-point shooting) stuck out like a sore thumb against Portland. Charlotte must improve in the three point shooting area (along with defense against it) in order to advance the team’s success.
The other lesson Portland doled out? The exact opposite lesson the Sacramento Kings presented on Saturday night. Portland, a winning franchise, has cultivated talent and brought in pieces over time to eventually build the contender the NBA sees today. Sacramento, even with the modern-day rarity that is a highly talented center, showed how years of throwing talent on the floor regardless of fit can end up simply not working. This was none more evident than the multiple times Kings players argued with each other after some of the many blown defensive assignments or tried to go one on five offensively when they were behind. Those are the marks of a losing team and Charlotte would do well to look at that behavior, remember when they looked like that and make sure to not look like that again.
All things considered, a 1-4 road trip is obviously not something to write home about. Sure, mention how nice Los Angeles is this time of year or how nice the mountains in Utah are, but just leave that whole 1-4 thing out of it. But don’t forget all of it. There were lessons to be learned in those hard times that can fuel a run towards success. So hold on to those thoughts.
But that one thought where someone who has to be related to Nikita Koloff hits a one-legged, overtime-forcing three pointer while facing the wrong way after missing his first six shots? Yeah, that one? Light it on fire, bury it in a 12-foot hole and read it several rites of last passage so that it never rears it’s ugly head again.