By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 27 2008 12:04AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- The Charlotte Bobcats have played 358 games as an NBA franchise, and only eight times have they walked into an arena as a team with a winning record.
At the beginning of their fifth season, the Bobcats' roster was light on experience, postseason or otherwise. They had made incremental progress since coming into the league, and brought in Larry Brown this summer to help take the squad to the next level.
Brown's methods take time to bear fruit, but the Bobcats' improvement was accelerated when they traded Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and a second-round pick to Phoenix for Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Sean Singletary on Dec. 10. Richardson was the most talented player in the deal, but sometimes quantity is more important than quality.
"We got two starters for one," Brown said of Bell and Diaw before Friday's 95-87 win in New Jersey. "That's the way I look at it. We'll never replace J-Rich, but we got two really quality guys."
Bell and Diaw have started all seven games since arriving in Charlotte. The Bobcats lost the first two games with the new additions, but have gone 4-1 since, showing improvement on both sides of the ball.
In the 23 games before Bell and Diaw arrived, the Bobcats scored 103.5 points per 100 possessions and allowed 108.2. In the seven games since, they've scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions and allowed 101.1.
"I don't know that any of us that came over can really take credit for that," Bell says modestly, even though he's clearly an upgrade over Richardson on the defensive end. "What we did realize when we got here was that this team plays hard every night. They're in a lot of ball games and they always give themselves the chance to win. If you're doing that, you're busting your butt every night and you don't have a defeated attitude, some good things can happen."
That showed on Friday, as the Bobcats held the Nets, who came in as the sixth-most efficient offense in the league, to just 87 points on 40 percent shooting. The high-scoring backcourt of Vince Carter and Devin Harris shot just 12-for-35 from the field.
On the other end, the Bobcats turned the ball over 17 times, but shot 50 percent from the floor and assisted on 26 of their 35 field goals. Raymond Felton and Emeka Okafor were the high scorers, but Diaw filled the boxscore with 16 points, eight boards and seven dimes.
Diaw has played inside more with the Bobcats, giving Okafor some much needed help on the boards. In Phoenix, he was averaging 3.8 rebounds per game, but he's pulled down 8.3 boards per contest in Charlotte. Still, it's his other abilities that Brown likes the most.
Brown values guys that can handle the ball. He's a former point guard who hasn't been afraid to use a doubly diminutive backcourt of Felton and D.J. Augustin for long stretches in order to get better ball movement from his offense.
So it says a lot that just two weeks after Diaw arrived in Charlotte, Brown was able to trust the 6-8 forward with the ball several times down the stretch of Friday's win. It paid off, as Diaw picked up a key assist in the fourth quarter and then hit the biggest basket of the game, a drive that stopped a Nets run that had cut the Charlotte lead to two.
"You always want the confidence from your coach," Diaw said afterward. "I think he trusts the fact that I'm going to make the right play, passing the ball to the right guy or shooting the ball if I'm open."
"LB recognizes that Boris is the kind of player that can not only create for himself, but create for other players on the court," Bell added.
Another guy that Brown can trust with the ball is a great thing to have in Charlotte.
"[Diaw] has always been somebody that's been like a point guard," Brown added. "He's a terrific passer."
In addition to their skills, Diaw and Bell bring experience. They've been through countless big-pressure situations, going deep into the playoffs with the Suns. Before their arrival, the Bobcats were 1-8 in games decided by five points or less. They were in games, but just couldn't finish. The new guys will help them do that, not only with their experience, but with the added depth that they create.
"Our next step is expecting to win," Bell concluded. "Good teams know the teams that they're supposed to beat. And against everyone else, they battle their butt off and try to get a win. We have to become a team like that, where we walk into a building and we know that we're going to take care of business."
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