Monday, March 10, 2014

Bobcats-Hornets Week in Review: To be the (7th) best...

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Somewhere in the history of the Bobcats-Hornets must be the most important win ever. I'll let the people who've followed them all along figure it out, since my years in New York City left me with box scores and lowlight reels.

For me, Wednesday's win over the Pacers left me beaming like no other win ever has.

In a unique performance, Charlotte rebounded from Lebron James' unbelievable 61-point output to trounce the team with the league's best record. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the most visible of a bevy of defenders torched by the best player in basketball nights earlier, tortured Paul George on and off the ball. Al Jefferson punished Roy Hibbert for playing off of his jumper. Cody Zeller has been contributing and played one of the better games of his young career. And Kemba snapped his recent struggle to join in the fight.

The singular focus this team sought and achieved against the Pacers may not be duplicated the rest of the year. There were mitigating factors: the national media focus on LeBron's night, Paul George has been struggling and so have the Pacers of late, and the Pacers were on the second night of a back-to-back. This would be an easily discountable win, except, the perfectly executed team effort proved so vindicating and so indicative of the future of this franchise. It seems more clear now than ever before what kind of team Charlotte can expect.

And, of course, the struggles against two other likely playoff teams muddled that clarity. Memphis hammered Charlotte, exacting revenge from the best defensive game the Bobcats-Hornets had all season just two weeks ago. Memphis hit the three and hit it well, leaving a good defense in tatters.

And of course, the LeBron game crushed any idea of elite status. No good defense gives up 61 points to any one man - especially not two, right? Carmelo Anthony's epic day in MSG a couple of months ago already exposed the deep, hidden secret in the Bobcats-Hornets shaky armor.

If you can hit midrange jumpers, you will beat Charlotte. This comes from a dearth of big defenders. I've gone over the problematic power forward position that Charlotte hides well with exact rotations on double teams and an overall team ethos of protecting the rim. Covering the small forward position usually falls into the hands of Kidd-Gilchrist, but he struggles with big, bruising small forwards. So does the rest of the league. Forwards aren't usually 6-8/275 and all muscle and quick and don't have a devastatingly accurate shooting percentage from 18 to 25 feet.

What makes Kidd-Gilchrist a good defender also inhibits him against Melo and Bron. He can step off of most players to help the lane and shift the team defense focus to the lane. This helps against point guards and slashing big men. He has quick hands and jumps passing lanes incredibly well. All this and he can recover to his man quickly enough to prevent open shots.

If you watch on any given night, Kidd-Gilchrist will hop around in three different spots - one to deny ball entry to the post, one to create havoc in a normal passing lane and break up the flow of a possession and then one to prevent his defender from getting space enough to make him pay for being out of position so much.
That does not work against LeBron James.

Time and again, James played Kidd-Gilchrist to the lane and scored because, quite simply, he could. James remains the best player in basketball because of his superior skills with and without the ball, and placing Kidd-Gilchrist in the "bad defender" category because the best player in the world crushed him stings for fans who watch him nightly.

Same goes for the team defense. In a win against Cleveland this week, the Bobcats-Hornets lead for most of the game, used Jefferson's overpowering presence, and did what they had been doing for weeks before they played this tough part of the schedule.

For Charlotte, the road gets easier now. They went 2-3 while playing four very good opponents - sorry, Cleveland. The next few games shape up nicely. Washington has been good lately but essentially have Charlotte's milieu. They beat bad teams and struggle against good ones. Denver and Minnesota are winnable games. Milwaukee's pathetic record speaks for itself. After that, they get some playoff teams that will test the new boundary the Bobcats-Hornets strive for, the one that thrashing the Pacers may have gained them. As the Ric Flair adage goes: To be the best, you gotta beat the best.

Charlotte's march toward respectability labors on after a win for the Era of Mediocrity's still-thin annals.

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