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Monday, January 27, 2014

Bobcats-Hornets Week in Review: Jumpers Into the Void

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 3:33 PM

If you drove past Guilford College's campus on Sunday, you may have seen two grown men hoisting jumpers at a shaky rim. Maybe they looked harmless and carefree, putting up 12 to 18 footers against the wind.

Maybe one of them looked particularly onerous - favoring his right knee, relying on muscle memory. Maybe he shot for the first time in two years after a massive and devastating knee surgery. Maybe his personal life recently marred his ability to go out and experience the good days. Maybe the weather did too.

Maybe he was the happiest man on Earth, watching the ball sail at the rim and bound away.

But we do not know his story. All we know is that he stood, essentially alone and shot the ball, uncontested. With no one to pass to, no team around him calling for the ball or wanting to set up plays. He shot the ball without conscience, without hesitation or fear. He performed basketball's simplest task.

He took jumpers.

I imagine that's how Carmelo Anthony felt on Friday night while he poured 62 points on the Bobcats-Hornets at MSG. The Knicks' problems melted into the void as Melo popped jumper after jumper, attacking the rim so few times that the Bobcats defensive strategy shifted into assumption - he had to start missing 18-footers at some point, right?

He did not miss. He played on an island, toiling over several defenders who must have seemed imaginary after awhile. He went 23-35 with an unbelievable shot chart consisting of 15-25 foot shots all over the court.
The crowd chanted his name on every possession, knowing that the Madison Square Garden/Knicks' franchise record of 61 points laid well within reach.

Did he hear the crowd? Did he hear his teammates cheering him on? Or was the world around him a blurred mix of meditative silence? Did he feel anything other than instinct?

After the game, Anthony tried to explain his zone by sputtering buzzwords and team speak. He could have told us anything, though. The interview could have ended with him describing the desolation of being the only man pounding the rock, turning and firing the ball toward the rim. He could have told fans that he was the sun and the fans would have believed him. He had no teammates, no coaches, no intention of anything but shooting until he went cold.

The noises he heard may have been like traffic rolling by a tiny outdoor court, or nothing at all.

No matter what he heard, a franchise record set at the behest of the Bobcats filled the sports airwaves for days after. People debated the merits of this game - He had zero assists! He is still a selfish player! The Knicks still suck! - but they missed an important point. Melo proved that the Knicks have a commodity. Next year he might be gone, but right now, they have an unbelievably talented pure scorer. Irrelevancy should not be an option for a team with a star of his caliber.

The Bobcats-Hornets do not have that right now. What they earn, they earn without the grace of shooters that can get what they want.

The closest thing they have, though, has played an unbelievable stretch despite team struggles. Al Jefferson has become the offensive weapon they wanted and so sorely needed over the past three or four years. He's healthy and hitting his jumpers while attacking with an array of post moves that his ankle would not allow early in the season. His efficiency, his intimidating skill set and his ownership of the "best offensive player on the floor" have all burgeoned as the season has progressed.

Unfortunately, this comes while Kemba Walker sits with his own ankle problems. Ramon Sessions has filled in admirably on offense, but cannot replace the two-man game that Walker and Jefferson have nor can he replace Walker's innate scoring ability. Plus Sessions plays an important role on the bench, which now relies heavily on minutes from guys unused to shot-heavy Jannero Pargo.

This speaks nothing of the pressure on Sessions defensively. DJ Augustin, a player who feared for his NBA life just a month ago, put 28 points on the Bobcats-Hornets in starting minutes. That means a bulk of his points - and his 15 in the 4th quarter - came on Sessions.

If Anthony could not be stopped in the Knicks game, that makes sense. Augustin scoring 28 for the Bulls? That sounds like pure nonsense.

That said, nonsense ruled the Bobcats past week. Augustin's performance notwithstanding, Charlotte saw Jannero Pargo hit four straight tough jumpers against New York... in a 4-11 performance. They saw 62 from Amelo. They saw the best of Al Jefferson and the worst of Josh McRoberts.

And all of it centered on losses to teams just ahead of them in the standings. The playoffs look exceedingly less possible until Walker returns and the team shakes off the anomalies of a week that got them all the wrong coverage.

Last week looked like like they had to toss their jumpers against the wind.

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