Last Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic proved one thing: that the Magic are no longer guaranteed to destroy the Charlotte Bobcats every time they meet. It used to be that Dwight Howard would teach Emeka Okafor a lesson, and remind the ‘Cats that they are small time and can’t compete with them. Now the Bobcats are right in the playoff mix and previously to the Orlando game, had won nine straight games at home. Howard only posted 10 points on 4-11 shooting, as well as 20 boards and 7 blocks against Bobcats centers Nazr Mohamed and DeSagna Diop. Behind an impressive performance by DJ Augustin (22 pts) and a game-tying layup by Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats managed to force overtime before eventually succumbing to the Magic.
Suprisingly, the Bobcats are the best team of 2010. Starting with a 9-1 record to start the year, including a six game win streak, the Bobcats are currently sitting at 21-22 and eighth in the East, and even occupied fifth place in the conference last week. They are on course for their first ever trip to the postseason, having been to the lottery every summer since entering the NBA as an expansion team in 2004.
What has been the reason for the Bobcats transformation from doormats to playoff contenders? Having a Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown helps. Having had success at previous stints in Detroit and Philly, Brown has done what he does best since taking over at the beginning of last season: trade half the roster away and start over. The likes of Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson, Adam Morrison and Sean May have left Charlotte and replaced by veterans who play Brown’s style of ball: Boris Diaw, DeSagna Diop, Vlad Radmanovic and Raja Bell (before they were traded to the Warriors for Stephen Jackson).
November’s trade for Jackson has transformed the fortunes of the Bobcats completely. Unhappy at the Warriors, many thought that Captain Jack would clash with Larry Brown, who is infamous for arguing with difficult players such as Allen Iverson in Philadelphia and Stephon Marbury in New York. But that hasn’t happened: before he came to the team, the Bobcats averaged just 82.4 ppg and shot 39.4 from the field. Since his arrival, the team’s offense has skyrocketed and they’re now putting up 97.7 ppg and shooting 46.6 percent. In the month of January, Jackson is averaging 24.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.7 apg. The 31-year-old guard/forward scored a career high 43 points in a big win against the Rockets on Jan. 12. Jackson was also recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Another player who is benefitting under Brown is Gerald Wallace. “Crash” and Jackson are being mentioned in All-Star chatter and Wallace in particular, could be named to the East team, backing up Lebron at small forward. Wallace has been described as the “glue” of this Bobcats team, performing a similar role to what Tayshaun Prince did when Detroit won a championship with Brown in 2004. Wallace supports the scoring threats (Jackson, Raymond Felton) as the do-it-all player for the ‘Cats. Wallace’s transformation into an all-round player has helped his career: no longer just a big dunker, Crash is “crashing” (pardon the pun) the boards, averaging 11 rebounds (5th in the league), along with averaging 18.5 ppg.
How far can the Bobcats go this season? There has been talk of them being the fifth best team in the East, this I think is untrue. I can see them reaching the playoffs for the first time in their history, but as the 7th or 8th seed. They are not going to get out of the first round, as they are not going to beat Cleveland, Boston or Orlando in a series. But when the All-Star reserves are announced on Thursday, I think Gerald Wallace will be named in the roster. Danny Granger is injured a lot, Igoudala and the Sixers are worse than the Bobcats so Wallace could become the first player in franchise history to make the All-Star team.
Scott led the Hornets to 2nd place in the West in 2008, with a 56-26 record, picking up the Coach of the Year award in the process. But injuries took their toll on the team last year, with the Hornets losing in the first round of the playoffs to Denver, which included a 58-point loss in game 4 of the series.
We are only two weeks into the season, but the warning signs date all the way back to last season. Injuries to key players highlighted a lack of depth in the squad, with reserves Hilton Armstrong and Sean Marks playing key minutes in games. In the offseason, center Tyson Chandlers was traded to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor, a move that annoyed Chris Paul but Okafor is more of an offensive threat than Chandler. It didn’t make sense though from a financial standpoint, the Hornets are supposedly looking to cut payroll, trading the likes of Rasual Butler to the Clippers for basically nothing, but took on Okafor’s large contract ($63 million over 5 years), which is a big gamble. Sure, Okafor is virtually a double-double machine, but Chandler’s contract would have came off the books next year.
And then there’s this season. The Hornets have looked horrible defensively, losing by more than 10 points in five of their six losses. Mo Peterson at shooting guard looks terrible, as does Julian Wright at small forward. James Posey has done nothing since he joined from Boston (don’t get me started on the $25 million over 4 years for a reserve – doesn’t matter if he has two rings), and Peja is one of the most overpaid players in the league ($13.3 million a year) for a man who seems to have lost his scoring touch and can never stay healthy. Even David West’s numbers are down. The only player who is performing well is Chris Paul. CP3 is carrying the team by himself and his numbers (26.1 ppg, 9.3 apg, 1.56 spg) are career-highs. But not even CP3 can carry the team by himself. It seems like he doesn’t trust his teammates anymore – and the only time New Orleans can click on offense is when CP3 is orchestrating it.
Scott’s sacking can only be a good thing. This team was struggling and hopefully Bowen can inject some fresh life into the franchise and get the role players and the starters to contribute and not just rely on Chris Paul. And with the competition in the West being even stronger this season (what with teams like the Suns, Rockets and the Thunder over-performing), then the Hornets need to step it up to make the playoffs. Dwayne Wade showed last season that it is possible for one man to get a team to the playoffs, but that was in a weaker Eastern Conference – but CP3 is going to need the likes of West, Peja and Okafor to help him out to even get anywhere near the dizzy heights of two years ago.