Head to head, Orlando won the season series over the Bobcats 3-1. The Magic took the first game in Orlando back on November 10, 93-81. Game two just six days later in Charlotte turned out to be Stephen Jackson’s Bobcats debut, but the game went to the Magic again, 97-91.
The Cats took Orlando to overtime in Charlotte on January 23, but the Magic once again prevailed, 105-95. Finally, in the last matchup on March 14, the Cats broke through for a 96-89 win, despite playing in Orlando without an injured Gerald Wallace.
Now lets get down to the matchups. ASChin and I decided to do a collabo for this, and we’ll start by breaking down the battle in the paint.
Dr. E: In the middle, Dwight Howard creates problems for every other team in the league. He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots for the year. It’s almost universally agreed upon that Orlando could be even more dominant if they made a more concerted effort to get him the ball on the offensive end (which they don’t always do, especially in the fourth quarter).
But it’s almost as if Larry Brown knew this matchup was coming. He’s collected a cadre of serviceable big men to play center-by-committee. Theo Ratliff is like an older, wiser version of Tyson Chandler, who has shown signs of life himself in recent weeks.
Nazr Mohammed has looked rusty in two games since returning from back problems, but was a revelation earlier in the season with his ability to score in the post. And Gana Diop is, well, Gana Diop (or Joey Crawford’s avatar).
Together, they represent four bodies and 24 fouls that could be deployed to wear Howard down.
ASChin:Agreed. They’ll try to win the war of attrition, throwing 24 fouls at Dwight and making the other 4 Magic players beat them one on one. The last thing that you want to do is play into the Magic’s hands. They want you to defend DHO for 40+ minutes, using up fouls at the center spot. Fortunately, the Bobcats have enough bodies in the middle to combat this somewhat but as you see in the breakdown vid below Dwight can now make you pay for single coverage.
Dr. E:The other way the Bobcats may try to neutralize Howard will be to get him into foul trouble himself. In this blog post from Rick Bonnell (once you get past the nonsense about how Rick and Gerald Wallace are like peas in a pod) Wallace stresses that the Cats need to take it straight at Howard to have a chance.
Howard averaged 3.5 fouls per game this year, fouling out four times and getting to five fouls more times than I bothered to count. Of course, if Howard gets into foul trouble, backup Marcin Gortat is more than capable of becoming an X-factor.
ASChin:This is a big deal. The Bobcats aren’t a great jump shooting team. They’ll have to continue to go to the hoop to have any chance in this series. With Dwight down there, it’ll be tough but I’m guessing that Coach Brown will try to run a lot high screen pick and rolls with Chandler and Ratliff to try and get Howard out out of the paint.
Lets move on to the 4 spot.
Rashard Lewis is having far from his best season as a pro. His FG%, ppg, rebounds and blocks are way down. Not exactly want you want from an $18 million a year guy. He still shoots lights out from beyond the arc so the ‘Cats will again have to prevent the Magic from forcing a double team on Howard down low.
I think a platoon of Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw matches up well against Lewis. Diaw in particular is going to force Lewis to guard him on those little post jump-hooks and when Howard comes over for the block, Boris is crafty enough to be able to find Chandler or Mohammed for a dunk or layup with a quick pass in the paint. Also, look for Crash to play some minutes at the four if Brown decides to turn the tables and go small.
Dr. E:By the way, was it ever fully explained what Lewis’s 10-game PED suspension to start the year was all about? Ironic that he’s clearly fallen off this season, isn’t it? Some may write it up to missing training camp and never getting in the groove, or missing Hedo Turkoglu’s point forward drive-and-dishes, but has anyone measured his head circumference-to-testicle ratio serially over the years?
No? Okay, jussayin.
Anyways, yes, between Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw, the Cats are better suited than most teams to guard and switch out onto Rashard Lewis at the three point line.
Alright, that covers the bigs. Next up, we’ll discuss the wings and guards. After that coaching and intangibles.
ASChin:Wait, did you just mention Rashard Lewis’s testicles?
As Fake Sinatra said to Steve & Edie: “Listen, it’s up to you. You can either open for me at the Meadowlands or headline at the Tick-Tock Inn!”
The Meadowlands (recently renamed The Izod Center) closed up shop after nearly 30 years Monday night with the Charlotte Bobcats taking care of business against the cellar dweller Nets 105-95. With Miami winning on the same evening, the ‘Cats are now locked into the East’s 7th seed and will take on the Magic in Orlando on Saturday after wrapping up the regular season against Chicago on Wednesday.
The Bobcats get an amazing 50 points from the bench in this one as Gerald “The Sequel” Henderson led the way with 14 on 6-9 shooting in just 21 minutes of action. This wasn’t garbage time folks (well, unless you consider any minute played against the Nets “garbage time”). Henderson filled in nicely for Crash by throwing down a couple of monster dunks, connecting on an acrobatic, double-pump reverse layup, rejecting a Brook Lopez shot and grabbing seven boards. Nothing against Terrence Williams, who was taken one spot ahead of Henderson and who had an excellent game himself (21 points, 13 boards and 6 assists in 41 minutes) but for the first time all season it seemed as if Henderson belonged in the League. He looked confident and asserted himself at both ends of the court. This looks promising.
The rest of bench brought their A-game as well. DJ shot the ball well again (5-7) and dropped a beautiful 18 footer over Lopez’s outstretched as if to say “I know you should have been the pick but not on this play!” Stephen Graham had his bi-monthly Stephen Graham baseline drive and dunk, Tyrus Thomas shot the ball poorly (he did have a semi-cast on his thumb) but played hard and got to the line (5 attempts) in 20 minutes of action.
Theo Ratliff got the start tonight and really affected the game on the defensive end early. Dude blocked two shots in two minutes (after the Nets TV team referred to him as a previously effective defensive player) and pulled down three boards. The problem with too much Theo Ratliff is when he starts affecting the game from an offensive standpoint. Theo was credited with only one Turnover but I counted three. If Gana Diop and Emeka Okafor started a “Big Man Hands Camp,” Theo Ratliff would be their first product.
Nazr Mohammed got a little burn afterwards and looked slow defensively and out of synch offensively. We might not be seeing the Nazr from earlier in the season again, folks. At least not until next year. Fortunately Tyson Chandler has looked very solid in the last few weeks and it looked like Larry Brown was saving Chandler’s legs for the first round matchup with Superman.
Brook Lopez is just plain awesome. Why the Bobcats passed on him for Augustin I’ll never know. My only guess is that the organization didn’t realize how well he ran the floor as a college prospect. Lopez is the anti-Rasheed. At 7’0″, he’s running baseline to baseline on very play. Lopez ran the break on one possession in the third quarter as he tossed a beautiful transition alley oop pass to T-Will for the jam. Lopez has the body type to be doing this for a while too; he’s built kind of like a David Robinson or a taller Hakeem. Bobcats will be paying for the 2008 NBA draft for a long time.
The Nets broadcast network ran several “Key Moments in Nets History” packages in tribute to the Meadowlands final game. Seeing Jason Kidd tear it up with Kittles, Van Horn and KMart against Reggie and the Pacers made me realize how long Kidd has been in the League. Drafted in ’94, Kidd has played against the likes of Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Skinny Shaq, Fat Shaq, Amare Stoudamire, Lebron James and Tyreke Evans.
Game’s Biggest Surprise: Yi Jianlian isn’t terrible. He’s not great, don’t get me wrong but offensively he definitely belongs in the League as a seventh or eighth man off of the bench. He’s got a nice jumper from 20′ feet plus and the size (7’0″) to pull down boards over smaller forwards. Not bad for 35 year ol-, pardon me, 22 year old prospect.
The Bobcats had a lot more to gain than the Houston Rockets in this one. With Miami dropping a surprising loss against the Pistons on the same evening, Charlotte could have inched within a game of the East’s sixth seed with a win in Texas but the Rockets had other plans. Behind a tremendous fourth quarter scoring burst from PG Aaron Brooks, Houston sent the Bobcats packing 97-90. Bobcats drop to 42-37, still two games back of Miami.
Stephen Jackson has his well-documented faults (not to mention a very suspect, very expensive contract) but this was another game that shows us just how valuable JAX is to the Charlotte Bobcats success. For all of Gerald Wallace’s efforts this season (All-Star selection, rebounding boost), Stephen Jackson is clearly Charlotte’s MVP.
Coach Larry Brown made good on his promise to rest Jackson as the team closes in on the postseason. Brown stated that he wasn’t worried about Playoff seeding now that they’ve clinched, he’s more worried about being effective once they start playing. I can’t argue with that logic. Seeing the team play without Stephen Jackson tonight was a nice reminder.
Bobcats also rested Tyrus Thomas (thumb) and didn’t dress Theo Ratliff, who is still away on a personal matter. Charlotte will need them all healthy and ready for the Playoffs.
A Few Positives From a Tough Loss
Tyson Chandler. As terrible as Tyson was for four fifths of the season, he’s picking an awfully good time to return to form. Chandler with another big defensive game: 12 rebounds and 5 blocks to go along with 7 points. Two of those points were collected on, you are not going to believe this, a NON-DUNK! I saw it with my own eyes, folks. First points of the game. Tyson backs in Luis Scola, turns and rattles in a fadeaway 5-footer. In related news, an image of Jesus was seen in a Smuckers jar last night in Bessemer City, NC.
D.J. looks confident. His numbers weren’t as good as they were against New Orleans but I like the body language. He had a nice open court stop & pop in the first half that wouldn’t have taken much less made earlier in the year.
Larry Hughes looks better. Hughes stepped in and did a decent job as Jackson’s replacement going 5-13 for 16 points. My take on The Great Hughes-Graham Debate of 2010 goes like this: Coach Brown knows what Graham is going to give him. He’s a given. Brown is intrigued enough with Hughes and his abilities as a proven dynamic NBA scoring guard that he’s willing to gamble with him now in order to have another major scoring asset come Playoff time. That’s a good gamble to make because the ‘Cats will need all the scoring they can get.
Some Rockets Observations
Shane Battier wore a green Masters jacket on the bench. I swear I’m not making this up. Something gives me the feeling that Battier and Ron Artest never hung out in the offseason.
I wonder how strange it is for Rick Adlemen to watch Gerald Wallace today, almost ten years after he let the raw draft prospect languish at the end of Sacramento’s bench? Did Adlemen ever guess that this guy might one day be an All-Star, a legitimate post threat and one of the League’s top rebounders?
Chase Buddinger = Adam Morrison gone right. In fact, Buddinger shouldn’t even be compared to white wing players at all. He’s got incredible athleticism that allows him to go to the basket when his outside shot isn’t falling. After Chase elevated and threw one down on Tyson Chandler, Chandler seemed more confused than upset. It was like he just witnessed a Pug best a Cheetah in a footrace.
The Rockets must lead the league in “Undersized Players.” It seems everybody on the team is giving up a few inches or a few pounds at their respective positions: Kurt Lowry, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Kevin Martin, etc.
Speaking of Chuck Hayes, he’s officially listed as the team’s starting center and he’s a maximum 6’5″ although he’s listed an inch taller but he’s built like a cement truck. Always a fan of undersized big men. Charles Barkley, LJ, and now Craig Smith and Hayes. Gotta love ’em.
Only three games left and then we got Playoffs baby!
Bobcats Front Office Should Get Credit For The Team’s Deep Roster Talent
The Reserves Have Made The Difference This Season
The Bobcats are closing in on their most successful season in team history, headed toward a spot in the NBA Playoffs and operating under new majority owner, Michael Jordan. The success is largely due to the leadership of Coach Larry Brown, and a roster upgraded with a collection of talent far above what Bobcats fans were used to seeing during the club’s first 5 seasons. The combination of Larry Brown’s prodding, Michael Jordan’s gambling, and Rod Higgins’ hard work has pulled this squad from unwatchable to a true Playoff team.
Considering all of the new players on the roster this season, Stephen Jackson has clearly made the biggest impact as a newcomer. Dealing Vladimir Radmanovic and (injured) Raja Bell to Golden State for “Jack” was a gamble and a potential public relations risk but the on-court effect was a huge steal for the Bobcats. Too often, it seems that we hear Charlotte’s success has been due solely to Jackson’s arrival. It could be argued that the depth of talent on the Bobcats’ bench deserves just as much credit for the team’s consistent effort and defensive presence.
Since last summer, Coach Brown, Air Jordan, and Rod Higgins have all been working on tuning the roster. The latest addition of Larry Hughes shows that the team is still tinkering, filling in the gaps in order to secure their first Playoff bid.
Who Has Been The Most Important Reserve For The Bobcats?
While the jury is still out on 2010 lottery pick Gerald Henderson and the recently signed Larry Hughes, we should take a look at the most important “role players” for the Bobcats so far this season.
Offseason Free Agent Acquisition: Signed 1 year contract at $885,000. Reserve Small Forward
Why He’s Most Valuable Reserve Material: Undeniably, Graham’s greatest strength has been his professional approach and consistency while dealing with Coach Brown’s erratic rotation patterns. Lord Stephen Graham has played very well in spot duty throughout the season ranging from ten minute cameos in relief of Gerald Wallace to 35 minute starts during Crash’s week long absence in March. Graham played so well in that stretch (notching consecutive 19 point performances) that it’s not difficult to imagine the team bringing the veteran back next season to play a similar role.
Baseline Scouting Report: Stephen Graham’s physique stands out even among NBA players. When the season started, I first commented, “While other players spend the offseason working on jump shots and post moves, Stevie Graham worked on his delts.” The dude is a beast. Fortunately, this extra weight doesn’t seem to hamper his speed while defending opposing threes. Graham is a solid if not spectacular defender and shows a surprisingly nice touch on the offensive end when shooting from the outside. Not a great three point shooter, Graham knows his limits and won’t launch many. Good for at least a couple of highlight dunks every month, Graham can catch defenders off guard around the baseline for a post & spin move to the hoop. Graham was billed as a “George Lynch” clone early in the season and that’s exactly what he’s been, a solid NBA frontcourt reserve.
Rookie Draft Selection (2nd Round): Signed 2 year contract, details undisclosed Reserve Power Forward/Small Forward
Why He’s Most Valuable Reserve Material: Although Brown hasn’t been getting much burn during the second half of the season, his early work should (rightfully) raise fans’ expectations going into next season. The four year forward from Xavier was labeled a 2nd round sleeper on draft day and in spurts Brown has lived up to the billing – his potential was on full display during an 18 point performance against the Suns back in January.
Baseline Scouting Report: Derrick Brown’s size and athletic ability at his position will keep him in the League for at least a few more seasons. He’s an excellent open court finisher and a decent mid-range shooter. At 6’8″, Brown has excellent height for a SF which accounts for a high rebound rate at the position and has also allowed the team to play Brown at PF for stretches before acquiring Tyrus Thomas in February. With more seasoning, it’s possible that Brown could crack Larry Brown’s rotation for good next year but he’ll need to cut down on the mindless fouls and missed assignments that plagued him during the second half of his rookie campaign.
Offseason Free Agent Acquisition: Signed 1 year $1.9 million contract, traded mid-February Reserve Shooting Guard / Point Guard
Why He’s Most Valuable Reserve Material: Gone but not forgotten, Flip Murray proved to be exactly as billed: a scoring force off the pine, a strong personality with the cajones to take and make shots when others wouldn’t or couldn’t. Murray’s bench scoring (over 12ppg) provided a major boost during Charlotte’s dominating 12-4 run in January and his presence was immediately missed as the Bobcats went 2-5 following his trade to Chicago. Eventually, things returned to normal for both Charlotte and Murray as the Cats started winning again while Flip dropped 12.5 in 26 minutes per game with the Bulls in March.
Baseline Scouting Report: Flip Murray is gonna get his. Period. Flip will shoot (and make) half of his team’s shots while he’s in the game and for a team in desperate need of second unit scoring, Murray is a godsend. What he gives up at the other end of the court on defense he more than makes up for on offense. During a loss against Orlando back in November, Murray dropped 31 points in 36 minutes – that’s probably more Flip Murray than you really need though. He’s at his best in a 20-24 minute scoring role while the team’s starters have a rest.
Trade Acquisition: Currently on the final year of his rookie scale contract ($4.7 million), Bobcats can extend qualifying offer next season for $6.2 million or negotiate a long term contract Reserve Power Forward/Center
Why He’s Most Valuable Reserve Material: Bobcats fans were a little disappointed that the team didn’t pursue a veteran backup PF during the offseason. One by one, quality backups like Drew Gooden and Hakim Warrick were picked up by other clubs and the ‘Cats entered the ’09-’10 season without a legitimate PF to play behind starter Boris Diaw. While acquiring another big man was inevitable, no one believed that the team would be able to bring in a player like Tyrus Thomas, a 6’10” super-athlete with as much untapped potential as any young power forward in the League. Still only 23, Thomas stepped in and stepped up his game instantly and is averaging over 10 points, 6.5 boards and over a block in just over 20 minutes a game for the Bobcats since the trade from Chicago. His presence has allowed the Bobcats to offer different looks, as Coach Brown has played a small frontcourt Thomas, Wallace, and Diaw for stretches against smaller, run & gun squads.
Although the price was steep (giving up a future 1st round pick along with Murray’s bench scoring), Thomas’ potential is worth the gamble.
Baseline Scouting Report: At 6’10”, it’s a little surprising that Tyrus Thomas has almost no post moves whatsoever. His offense comes mostly on thunderous putbacks, open court dunks or on unexpectedly sweet 15 footers. While his rebound and blocked shot rates are off the chart, Thomas isn’t exactly the world’s best defender. He’ll often be forced to foul or make a spectacular block from behind once his man has beaten him in the post. Still, Thomas has both age and situation on his side. Larry Brown mentored a similarly raw specimen in Gerald Wallace to an All-Star selection in just two seasons, it’s not hard to believe that Thomas could walk the same path if he’s willing to work on his game. BONUS: Having Thomas on the roster will give the Bobcats some flexibility heading into next season. As long as Tyrus’ contract demands aren’t outrageous, the team will definitely extend him or at least sign him to the qualifying offer for a year, making Thomas an expiring contract or a moveable asset should the team choose to go another direction.
Trade Acquisition: Signed a 1 year $1.3 million contract
Reserve Center : Currently Starting
Why He’s Most Valuable Reserve Material: I don’t want to skew the voting here folks but c’mon, has there been anyone more valuable to the Bobcats late season success than Theo Ratliff? When Ratliff arrived mid-February from San Antonio (in exchange for very distant 2nd rounder) three of the four Bobcats centers were injured and the fourth was playing hurt (Nazr Mohammed). The 36 year old veteran showed up as an afterthought, a worst-case scenario insurance policy, and then proceeded to average 6 points, 4 boards and a block and a half in just over 20 minutes of action a night. The numbers don’t do Ratliff’s impact justice. Opposing players are aware of his presence on every possession that he’s out there and when the Bobcats trot out Ratliff, Thomas and Crash together on the frontline, there’s a one in three chance that a shot will be blocked. Simply amazing. The spry, second coming of Mutumbo has another unexpected trick up his sleeve: he shot 87% from the FT line in March (32-37), making him a little more valuable on offense. With Tyson Chandler finally healthy and playing well and Nazr Mohammed coming back soon, Coach Brown will have to reconfigure his rotation at center and that might mean reduced minutes for Theo. Doesn’t matter, Ratliff’s play in March propelled the Bobcats to an 11-6 record for the month, all but sealing the team’s first Playoff berth.
Baseline Scouting Report: Theo Ratliff is never going to win any battles down low with brute strength. He’s more of shot blocker, shot alterer and does this with ease. Technically, he’s a solid defender who can hold his own against the League’s top centers (see the March victory against the Magic in Orlando). On offense, Theo should be barred from ever touching the ball more than six feet outside of the basket. In fact, the semi-dashed circle underneath the basket that the officials use to determine blocking fouls versus charges should also be used by Theo Ratliff in determining whether or not he should take the shot. Look down, if he’s outside the circle, pass. In, dunk or get fouled and go to the line. Simple as that.
Vote For The Role Player You Think Has Most Helped The Bobcats This Season.
You can’t really blame Joe Johnson for the loss. Up by ten points midway through the 4th quarter, the Bobcats had numerous opportunities to put the game away. Turnovers (15) and poor bench play (outscored 28-15) hurt throughout but look at the final three plays of regulation to see where the game was really lost:
Up by four with a little more than 2:00 on the clock, the Bobcats proceed to:
Possession One: Raymond Felton forced drive and miss at the end of the shot clock on a busted play that was supposed to go to either Stephen Jackson or Boris Diaw.
Possession Two: Stephen Jackson two missed free throws.
Possession Three: Boris Diaw passes up a two-footer in the lane for a Theo Ratliff missed ten footer.
Regulation over, Hawks tie it up to send it to OT.
Meanwhile in OT the Bobcats are KILLED by JAX’s four consecutive missed 3-pointers. While it’s understood that Jackson is the team’s first scoring option, I’m very curious as to how his teammates are going to react to his decision making tonight. JAX wasn’t feeling it from downtown all evening and ended up going 1-7 from behind the arc.
Joe Johnson finally got hot in the 4th quarter and OT after struggling for most of the game and then emphatically sealed the win at the buzzer with a contested jumper over Raymond Felton.
Not only did Raymond have a great game with 25 points (on 11-19 shooting) in 46 minutes but he had the two clutch baskets in OT that might have won the game if not for Johnson’s heroics. The weird line-drive floater in the lane with 3.8 to go in OT was surpassed only by his “Rumblin, Fumblin, Stumblin” fast break layup in traffic a minute earlier. One could only hope they Ray will learn to time his game winners a little closer to the buzzer from this point on.
As mentioned above, the Bobcats bench was outclassed – that was the difference that kept ATL in the game during a first half when their starters were struggling. Jamal Crawford continues to torment the Bobcats (16 points) no matter what jersey he happens to be wearing.
Raymond’s backup, D.J. Augustin, served up another DPBCI (Did Play But Completely Ineffective). Seven minutes, 0-2 from the field, 2 assists, 2 fouls, 1 turnover. So glad that we don’t have Brook Lopez lumbering down the lane.
Gerald Wallace with a big first game back from the ankle injury. Crash was mostly MIA in the first half but dropped 18 points after the break to finish with 20 points, 16 boards, and a BIG block in transition that helped swing the momentum in the Bobcats direction during their 25-18 third quarter run.
Theo Ratliff had a terrible game offensively (1-9 from the floor) but you really have to spread the blame around to his teammates (especially Boris Diaw) for feeding him shots late in the shot clock that he had no business taking.
Some good news may be on the horizon. The two main areas where the Bobcats were deficient against the Hawks (offensive production at Center, bench scoring) will certainly be improved once Nazr Mohammed and Larry Hughes return from injury. Hughes should be ready by early next week while Mohammed is still day to day.
The Bobcats defeated the Magic in Orlando 96-89 on Sunday night to earn their sixth straight win. The Cats improved to 34-31 overall and maintained their hold on the 6th spot in the East. Though Dwight Howard finished with 27 points on 12-14 FGs, the Bobcats were able to keep him frustrated and in foul trouble all game.
With Gerald Wallace sidelined by an ankle sprain, the Bobcats looked to Stephen Jackson to pick up the slack. Jack delivered with 28 points (10-20 FG, 3-5 3PT, 5-6 FT), 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Most importantly, as the game hung in the balance in the fourth quarter, when the Cats of old wouldn’t have been able to score, Jack had three huge buckets and two free throws to seal the win.
Defensively, the Bobcats played another solid game. Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Michael Pietrus combined for 70 points on 26-40 FG, but the rest of the Magic only managed 19 points on 7-32 FG. Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis, in particular, shot a combined 3-17 and 1-9 3PT.
Theo Ratliff put in a days work, playing 32 minutes guarding Dwight Howard. Theo finished one rebound short of a double-double with 1o points and 9 rebounds.
Stephen Graham filled in admirably for Gerald Wallace, with 12 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-3 FT) and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes.
Speaking of Crash, he is traveling with the team despite the fact that he didn’t play and has already been ruled out of Tuesday’s contest with the Pacers. When interviewed during the game, Gerald said that he’s been wearing a protective boot over the weekend, but was hoping to take it off tonight. He also indicated that he’d try to play as soon as allowed, knowing that he’ll be playing through soreness.
And speaking of the Pacers, apologies for getting this post up late — I got hooked into the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that premiered tonight on the Reggie Miller/Pacers vs. Knicks rivalry. Fantastic stuff.
The Charlotte Bobcats fell to the Dallas Mavericks at the Cable Box 89-84, falling to 0-12 versus Dirk and Co. all time. AP recap here, box score here. After fleetingly moving up into the 8th spot when Miami lost back-to-back games over the weekend, the Cats have fallen back to 9th place in the East at 28-30 overall.
The Cats came out strong in this one, building an early 20-9 lead midway through the first quarter. Another spurt to end the second had the Cats up 53-43 at the half. Tyrus Thomas had a great first half, keeping Dirk quiet on the defensive end and pacing the Cats with 12 points.
But the second half was a different story, as the Cats could only muster 31 points the rest of the way and were overtaken midway through the fourth quarter. The offense looked like a hot mess.
Here’s what you need to know: The Cats had more turnovers (11) in the second half than field goals (9). Tyrus Thomas led the Cats with 16 FGA. Gerald Wallace had just 8, with only 1 (a 20 foot jumper) in the deciding fourth quarter. Stephen Jackson finished with 20 points on 6-14 FG, but spent more time fussing at referees and turning the ball over (6 times) than scoring. There were three airballs in the fourth quarter, plus a monumental brick by Boris on a three attempt.
Meanwhile, despite decent defensive efforts from Boris Diaw and Tyrus Thomas, Dirk Nowitzki heated up and finished with 27 on 12-23 FG to put the Cats away. Caron Butler went for 22 on 10-16 FG, while Jason Terry contributed 20 on 8-17 FG off the bench. The Mavericks are now the hottest team in the league with 8 wins in a row.
Why did the Cats fade so badly after a solid first half? You could argue that the Cats don’t have a go-to guy like Dirk, who can get buckets and draw double-teams. You’d be partially right, but in Stephen Jackson we have the closest thing we’ve ever had to that guy, and he’s been pretty good this season.
You could argue that the pressure of facing the elite Mavericks, knowing that they were winless against them all-time, got to the Cats and caused some tightness. I couldn’t prove you wrong. It’s certainly happened before.
But tonight it appeared that the main factor was fatigue. I tweeted halfway through the fourth quarter that the Bobcats looked to have “run out of gas” and I was right. You could just feel the exhaustion and sense that the Mavs had more in the tank. (Sad, since they were coming off a late back-to-back AND are more veteran-heavy than the Cats are.)
We’ve been worried about it all season. Gerald Wallace leads the league at 42.4 minutes per game, while Stephen Jackson is sixth at 39.5. Now look at the the rest of the guys at the top of that list (Monta Ellis, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, etc.) — all younger. Crash and Jack have too many miles on them to be playing 40+ minutes a game regularly, and I fear that we’re starting to see all that court time take a toll.
Glad that Jordan finally bought the team, hope it leads to him being around and engaged more often, but I could care less whether he plays HORSE with Gerald Henderson at shootaround or gladhands local politicians. Wake me when he does some real homework and makes a good first round draft selection, or shows some understanding of the salary cap.
No Nazr (back spasms), Chandler (foot/ankle) or Diop (knee) tonight. Really could use Nazr back playing 15-20 mins, then Theo playing 10. Might allow Gerald to get a couple more minutes of rest.
So the Cats won’t be signing Larry Hughes or Mike James, but what about Michael Finley? Sounds like he’s headed for the Celtics or Lakers, and not sure how much he brings to the table anymore, but you’d hope that Jordan/Higgins at least make a call. Is Finley still a Brand Jordan guy?