Charlotte Bobcats: Still Losing But Finally Improving?
Are the Charlotte Bobcats really that bad? After posting last season's disastrous 7-59 record, the Bobcats recently ended a 18 game losing streak to end 2012. But as Adam Digby tells us, all may not be as gloomy as it seems.
"Losing is losing," said Kemba Walker earlier last week, "Hopefully we can stop it soon but it's no different at all from last year." Speaking just after scoring 27 points in yet another loss, the sad fact for fans of the hapless Charlotte franchise is that the point guard is absolutely right; losing is just what the Bobcats do.
Unlike most other facets of the game, they also do it remarkably well. Having finished last season with the league’s worst ever win percentage (.106) they were only saved from losing more games than any other team in history by the fact the season was shortened by the lockout. The Bobcat is, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, “an athletic, fierce predator indigenous to the Carolinas,” yet the basketball team to which the cat lends its name has been anything but.
They ended the campaign losing 23 straight games but, under the guidance of new coach Mike Dunlap, appeared to have turned a corner as 2012-13 got underway. The team won seven of their opening twelve games, matching the total number of victories recorded last term in which they appeared determined to discover ever more incredulous ways of posting losses. Finishing the season with a 7-59 record, more than a third of their defeats came by a more than twenty points but there are – for those watching closely enough – reasons to believe they are improving.
That may appear something of a contradiction as they slid to their sixteenth straight defeat against Miami last week (with their streak ending at 18 losses with a win in Chicago on New Year's Eve) but, while LeBron James and co enjoyed a comfortable 105-92 triumph, thirteen of Charlotte’s last 22 losses have been by ten points or fewer, with five coming by four or less. Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra, speaking just after that game spoke of his belief things are not as bad as they appear for the Bobcats, telling ESPN:
"It's always tough when you're going through a year like they are but they are getting great experience for the young players. Their players are as good as anybody's in the league, they just don't have as much experience”
It was certainly noticeable against the reigning World Champions, who led by just two points with just over seven minutes remaining before Miami finally pulled away. Opponents have averaged 109 points per game during those eighteen losses and a fraction below 105 overall this season but they have, thanks to a balanced offensive approach, the league’s sixteenth best points per game tally with 96.1ppg. The off season additions of Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon have undoubtedly helped, as the two players bring valuable experience to one of the youngest rosters in the NBA today.
What the team undoubtedly needs is to improve at the defensive end of the floor, suffering repeatedly from an inability to prevent penetration as only two teams – Utah and Portland – allow more points in the paint greater than Charlotte’s average of 43.8 and they are one of only five teams who allow opponents to score with over 50% of their shots from the floor. Dunlap is more than aware of the problem as he told reporters this week:
"In the NBA you have to cover guys that are getting beat off the dribble. The only way you can do that is to leave your man and that is a hard habit to break at this level because you're depending on the trust factor. If you lose games there is an undermining of 'should I leave my man or not?' There are question marks in the eyes."
They are clearly working on pressuring the ball and rotation but need to improve quickly and, while they lost once again to the Brooklyn Nets, it was somewhat understandable the Nets would enjoy an upturn in fortune having just fired Avery Johnson. With the losing streak ending at eighteen, Charlotte can look forward to what appears to be a run of winnable games; Cleveland (7-25), Detroit (12-22), Utah (15-17) and Toronto (11-20) are next on the schedule and the time to turn the season around may well be now.
As it often does with this ailing Bobcat team, the last word goes to leading scorer Walker. Speaking after that loss to the Miami Heat he said simply "We have to find a way to win. That's what we're going to try to do -- find a way."
Their fans will hope they do so quickly.
The Odds: If you like the chances of a late Bobcat's surge this season, William Hill are offer odds of 1000 to 1 for Charlotte to claim the Southeast title in 2013.
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And read more of his work at ESPN.com