Back to life, back to reality for the Bobcats. Charlotte ushered in the new year with a blow-out bloodbath against the Magic that they spectacularly topped two nights later against the Heat.
The Magic loss was a dreary affair, made all the more pitiful with announcer Steve Martin constantly saying things like, “And with that rebound, the Bobcats have a chance to cut the lead down to 13!” (Martin’s ceaseless cheerful optimism in the face of athletic competition genocide is a thing of beauty—if the United States ever does explode after being attacked by a fleet of all-powerful homicidal aliens, I want him as our President.) There were ominous signs early on in the telecast when they showed Dwight Howard warming up and then cut over to Boris Diaw; my immediate thought was of the old Chris Farley/Patrick Swayze “Chippendales” sketch on Saturday Night Live. Sure enough, Howard gracefully executed a series of deft moves, rebounds, blocks, and passes while Diaw (and later Gana Diop) flailed hopelessly away—as did the rest of the team.
Even more frustrating was the fait accompli attitude taken by the team afterward, exemplified by coach Paul Silas in this quote: “You either double him (Howard) or let him kill you. We started off that way and he was killing us. Then we came at him and they started hitting threes. There’s not much we could have done tonight.” The Associated Press wrap-up of the game agreed with Silas and even seemed to take on a sympathetic tone for the Bobcats’ predicament. Sorry, I’m not letting them off that easy. Orlando scored 100 points total, of which 20 came from Howard. Another 36 came from 3-pointers. That means 44 points (or 44% if you want to sound impressive) came from non-Howard/non-3-pointers. Also, there was no Jameer Nelson (out with some sort of typical Jameer Nelson-type injury) breaking us down off the dribble. That means we got served by the likes of Jason Richardson, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu Ryan Anderson, and the immortal JJ Reddick at close range (all 11 of Reddick’s points were inside the arc, by the way), with the unstoppable force that is Chris Duhon running point. It wasn’t just Howard and a bunch of 3-pointers; it was a disgraceful defensive effort.
And then came the Miami game. I hesitate to even call it a “game,” because there was an air of prolonged suffering involved for the losers that bordered on cruelty. The Heat treated this less as a game and more as a warning to other teams, as evidenced by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh playing well into the second half, despite a point-differential that frequently topped 40 (and despite a game the following night against Atlanta). This match was to games what waterboarding is to interrogation (I suppose Miami didn’t win, they “enhanced won”), and trying to summarize the breakdowns would be like trying to summarize the plot of The Tree of Life.
Nonetheless, through 4 games, there are three trends that need to change if the Bobcats want to approach the realm of competence:
- Corey Maggette is shooting a horrific 28% from the field. He’s also settling for shots, because he’s only getting to the free throw line 3.3 times a game, well off the 7-10 times he regularly averaged in his “glory days” with the Clippers. He’s also repeatedly in foul trouble (4 PFPG), and even his assist numbers are down (which is almost theoretically impossible). Other than that he’s been great!
- DJ Augustin and Kemba Walker may be our two-headed monster of the future, but right now they’re a circular firing squad. They’re shooting just 37% and 39% from the field, respectively, which is not good in any sense, but especially so when they’re combining for about a quarter of the team’s shots (we have the 26th-ranked TS% in the league). Augustin in particular has been brutal, nearly doubling his turnover rate while not getting to the line at all.
- The defense that we sort of used to pride ourselves on in the Larry Brown days has fallen apart like a Chinua Achebe novel. To be fair, we did play the Heat twice, but right now we have the 28th-ranked opponent FG% in the league, we’re in the bottom third in generating turnovers, and we’re in the bottom third in allowing opponents to get to the free throw line. It doesn’t matter how awesome our rebounding is if there’s nothing to rebound.
The good news is the Bobcats have the coaches and the players to improve on defense, and the shooting has nowhere to go but up. And yet, it’s never really true when someone says something like that, is it? Even if it doesn’t get worse, it could very well continue to flatline…Yikes, I’m struggling to spin this positively—um, a little help here, Steve?