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Monday, January 6, 2014

Bobcats-Hornets Week in Review: Tough holiday schedule may prove too much for mediocrity

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 4:32 PM

I have lukewarm feelings for the holidays. Nowadays, I have a small family obligation and with no spouse/kids and minimal fiduciary responsibilities for the gift-giving season. Really, I just have to eat and relax.
Couple that with a short break from my 40-hour-a-week job, and I had all the time in the world to focus on the Hornets-Bobcats. I planned on writing a long posit on the way the team's defense has matured even without one of the best defensive wing players in the game. I planned on writing about Kemba's recent shooting tear.

Oh, the articles I planned.

Then the Bobcats played the worst ball they've played all year. Positively awful games against the Jazz, Clippers and Blazers coupled with tough losses against the Hawks (OT) and Thunder made it impossible to find joy or mirth in the Bobcats-Hornets this holiday season.

Topping the many lowlights were a missed three by Josh McRoberts to kill the chance to win over the Thunder (which I argued the merits of on Twitter to be ganged up on by more prolific and better sportswriters) and Cody Zeller's horrific missed dunk shown to thousands on Deadspin.

This is the road Charlotte has chosen in the past - they lose a few on the road, maybe out West or in the conference - and they begin folding up to prepare for the draft and offseason. The fans begin arguing over prospects. The coaches talk about toughness on the roster as they try and play spoiler. The seasons end the way they usually begin: full of loss and woe.

The past week could be the beginning of all that. If not for an offensive explosion against the Kings on Saturday that included Chris Douglas-Roberts' unlikely double-digit point total in a starting role, the team would have lost six in a row. And they would have gone 0-5 in their West Coast road trip.

The reality, actually, plays out far more grimly for the Bobcats if they continue their slide. The East teams putrid early veneer refuses to wash away and the Bobcats-Hornets, right now, would play the three-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They cannot continue to lose the way they did last week. I still believe they play better than this current streak and that they will likely get healthier.

The lottery looks beautiful for the teams mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. A sure-fire chance to improve awaits them. The Bobcats-Hornets must forget that world, even as they lose 5 in a row. To get to the bottom seven picks, the Bobcats would have to lose continually like they did during this tough stretch, and hope that two or three bad teams below them catch moderate fire to ascend.

Rumors of the Knicks willingness to break up their team (no matter how feeble and stupid the stories are) to improve their lottery chances, the Nets widening gap between how they play and how they should play, the Bucks' putridity, Philly's awful roster, Boston's awful roster, Cleveland's locker room problems and regression, Orlando's also-awful roster - every team worse than Charlotte deserves to be worse.

Remember, also, Charlotte's offseason improvements only hinder their ability to lose. Now add in those Kemba Walker hot streaks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's inevitable return, the smart signing of Douglas-Roberts, the team defense, Cody Zeller's long-term improvements, Steve Clifford continuing to coach fairly well. They all remain hindrances.

So, after a holiday cold streak, Charlotte stayed one of the best eight teams in a pathetic conference. And the choice to tank still exists, though it would be a poor one.

The Age of Mediocrity took a huge blow over the holidays, but the choice now remains in the hands of the Bobcats.

If they turn this tough stretch around, the five-seed remains theirs for the taking. And because of the arcane laws of the Eastern Conference, they would get to play whatever terrible team wins just enough game to take the Atlantic division, the four-seed.

Right now? That would be the frisky, yet inherently flawed Toronto Raptors, an easily beatable team.

That's right. Even as badly as Charlotte played these past two weeks, they could be a playoff-series winner. The culmination of a few teams falling apart and one team playing up to their mediocre level might still lead to triumph.

If the holidays prove to be any indicator, the results will be awfully tough to watch either way.

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