The biggest knock on the Bobcats-Hornets for the past few years centered on their lack of scoring. So much so, that Papa John's offers pizza at half the menu price any time the team scores 90 (!) points or more.
Drafting Cody Zeller and getting Al Jefferson in free agency showed that this organization wants to fix their biggest problem. With Jefferson missing the week's games after reaggravating an ankle injury, the assumption would be three low-scoring contests and at least two losses - both to the New York Knicks.
Before Friday's game, you could have taken up Papa's offer during two games, both of which the team won.
So what happened? In a week marred by Steve Clifford's heart problems (get well, coach) and the continued lack of scoring presence inside, Charlotte mixed good fortune, great first halves and defensive brilliance to play the best basketball this town has seen in years.
New York vs. Charlotte used to be an excuse to rest the Knicks best players in the second half, but a sharp Kemba Walker and an even sharper Gerald Henderson made New York spread the floor. They hit jumpers and attacked the cup. They got to the line and hit free throws consistently.
Most of all, they survived. The Knicks lost their best defender in former Bobcats standout Tyson Chandler early in the game, so the Bobcats attacked the rim. Diving toward the basket, they made the Knicks collapse the paint constantly, getting shooters and cutters open.
Problematically, they exposed a greater weakness.
In the second half, the Bobcats shooting began to disintegrate. Their lead - which they held all night - waxed and waned as they missed both contested and open jumpers. Charlotte's fractured offense from last year returned. They bobbled passes, turned the ball over and passed up decent shots for worse ones while the shot clock ran down.
The first Knicks' game marks the difference Jefferson will make. As a consistent shotmaker, he draws double teams. Until he gets healthy, fans have to take the Bobcats-Hornets as they are - a fun team that will struggle to score late in games.
The Bobcats played fantastic defense, however, led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Clifford promised a stout defense from his team. Kidd-Gilchrist produced big play after big play on and off the ball while the team defense refused to switch on pick and rolls and fought through continual rough play from the Knicks.
Did I mention the free throws? Both Knicks games produced a prolific amount of trips to the free-throw line. As the Knicks piled up fouls, the Bobcats made them pay consistently - a key for them once they are fully healthy.
Most impressively, Kidd-Gilchrist had to deal with Carmelo Anthony. The rest of the Knicks offense bumbled around, but Anthony's possessions looked like a normal day for him. Kidd-Gilchrist didn't fall for his bevy of fakes and jab steps, he just allowed him to take shots he earned and held Anthony in check. Without JR Smith (suspended) and their best rebounder, Anthony's teammates could not score with any consistency, especially in the fourth quarter.
Against Toronto, the Bobcats-Hornets mirrored themselves. An astounding first half gave way to a much tougher second half and late defense prevailed. This time, Charlotte outlasted a team they should beat.
That will be the true test going forward. If the first two games of last week are any indication, this team will need both Jefferson's return and some good fortune to beat good teams. Then they must beat worse teams.
In the third game this week, they earned me my second half-price pizza, their third pizza game overall, but the Knicks had figured out how to exploit the improved Charlotte defense. Teams that make the playoffs for years in a row often do that to young, aspiring teams.
Therein lies an important lesson for fans and the organization alike: getting better means a 2-1 week can teach more than a 3-0 week. The Knicks did not play harder. They played smarter. They opened their center, veteran marksman Andrea Bargnani, for jumpers he usually hits and used Anthony more effectively on the low block and the elbow. They exploited the middle of the paint to better position for kick outs. They played like a team that knew how to win.
The Bobcats can learn from that blowout loss on Friday night, even if the fans learned more from the gritty wins. The offense and defense are gelling.
And for one week, at least, the Bobcats-Hornets have us eating pizza.