Posted Feb 24 2010 4:25PM
If the Bobcats don't reach the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's short and checkered history, it won't be from a lack of trying. Charlotte's second NBA entry called in reinforcements for the stretch run, trading for inconsistent but gifted power forward Tyrus Thomas and an old Larry Brown warrior, center Theo Ratliff, in the last week.
That's the latest in a series of bold moves over the last two years, none of which guarantees the postseason drought won't extend to six. Still, the Bobcats are right there in Eastern Conference race with fewer than 30 games to play.
"Our main thing is trying to control our own destiny," Bobcats All-Star forward Gerald Wallace said. "We have a great opportunity right now and we have to stay focused on our main goals. And our goal right now is just to get in and when we get in, then we'll go from there. But right now it's to keep playing consistent and keep doing what we've been doing."
Charlotte went into Wednesday tied with Milwaukee at eighth at 27-28. The Bulls, Heat, Bucks and Bobcats are all within 1.5 games of each other. As tight as the Western Conference has been all season, the scramble for the last few spots in the East promises to be just as intense.
Just seeing Charlotte in the picture is surprising for some, but Brown's eighth NBA team made a run last season in his first year on the job. The franchise has continued to churn the roster and upgrade, no small feat considering the financial constraints of lame-duck owner Bob Johnson. November addition Stephen Jackson has been a shot in the arm and a leader in the locker room, and the latest set of deals upgraded the frontline.
"This is a good group of guys and coaches," said Thomas, averaging 10.3 points and nine rebounds in his first three games. "Coach Brown made it a lot easier for me when he told me to just go play and have fun, and don't really worry about anything else but playing hard."
Brown has lauded the job done by Michael Jordan, who heads up the team's basketball operations and, not so coincidently, received an endorsement in his bid to become owner of the team from David Stern during All-Star weekend. Wallace, though, praised the work of his coach above all others.
"Larry Brown is the reason we're at where we're at right now," Wallace said. "His coaching style and his philosophy have taken us to that next level. I think it took a year for everybody to get accustomed to what he's doing and what he expects his players to be doing. But once everybody got into the system and kind of bought in, I think we're hitting a great stride right now.
"I think our only downfall is maybe our road record."
The Bobcats (10-19 off Tobacco Road) have dropped the first two games -- against Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers -- on a four-game trip that turns tougher with Wednesday night's visit to Utah and a Friday stop in Memphis. This skid comes after a confounding two-game stretch that saw Charlotte pummel East-leading Cleveland after falling to conference doormat New Jersey.
That's not the consistency Wallace and the rest of the Bobcats are shooting for. Brown has been forced to juggle the lineup, especially at center with Tyson Chandler, Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop out with injuries. Ratliff, 36, started Monday against the Clippers and played 31 minutes. He had logged only 37 minutes with San Antonio since the start of January before arriving in Charlotte.
The Bobcats could see their playoff chances take a big hit over the next 10 days. After finishing up the roadie with the Jazz and Grizzlies, Charlotte has the Mavericks, Celtics and Lakers. Looks like make-or-break time.
"If you can keep everything consistent and keep doing what we've been doing," Wallace said, "we have a pretty good chance."
San Antonio returned from its annual rodeo-induced excursion with more questions than answers. That's not the way these trips usually work out.
The Spurs went 4-4 during the march that's taken all of February, which wasn't good enough to tread water, leaving them seventh in the West. The trek ended with losses at Philadelphia and Detroit -- both teams are under. 500 -- and with another injury to point guard Tony Parker.
Tension is growing in the Alamo City. Fan dissatisfaction has centered on prized offseason pickup Richard Jefferson, who was reportedly on the trading block before the deadline. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has taken shots at the team's defense. The offense, one player groused, feels like four shooting guards and Tim Duncan. Others have wondered about the locker room vibe, which has never been in question during the Duncan Era.
"Everybody is a little bit right on everything," Duncan told reporters before Tuesday's practice. "Our defense is what we've always based our whole team on. Our chemistry hasn't been there. We've not played well through stretches. We've had real bad lulls through games and quarters.
"So it's all those things combined. Everybody has a point and everybody has something there. How do you clean up all those things at once? You don't. You just keep working on little things."
Duncan and the Spurs thought they turned a corner after blowing out Denver right before the All-Star break. It became "one step forward, two steps back," he said, but the team isn't dwelling on the setbacks.
"It's not hard to keep plugging along," Duncan added. "It's hard with the results, postgames and looking back at the ones we let slip away. To get back to work and to keep plugging away isn't hard because I know we want to get it right. I know we want to play the right way and we want to start moving in the right direction."
So does Parker, especially after being slowed by a hip strain last week. He's dealt with plantar fasciitis, ankle and knee sprains and a drop in production. The playmaker hopes to return Wednesday night against Oklahoma City in the Spurs' return to the AT&T Center, their first home game since Jan. 31. San Antonio (31-23) has only a half-game lead on eighth-place Portland.
Parker admitted that extending the Spurs' run of 50-win seasons to a league-best 11th year will be tough, but scoffed at the idea they may miss the playoffs.
"We'll make the playoffs," he said with a good bit of French bravado. "I'm not even worried about that."
"We still feel disrespected. We still have that chip on our shoulder. That chip ain't going nowhere."
-- Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony after beating Boston.
1. Knicks have $30-plus million to spend this summer. If they can't sign LeBron, D-Wade or Bosh, why not just buy the Grizzlies?
2. Top four all-time one letter nicknames: Dr. J, Big O, X-Man and Z.
3. Some guys forget what city they're in when they wake up. Drew Gooden forgets what team he's on.
4. Forget LeBron and 2010. Hopefuls should start clearing cap room in 2013, 14, 15 or whenever Kevin Durant decides to be a free agent.
5. No offense, but I'm all Iversoned out.
AG: Does coming from a difficult situation like Washington to Dallas re-energize you for the stretch run?
BH: I don't think it re-energizes you. You're just happy for the opportunity.
AG: So you approach it the same way?
BH: I take pride in being in the NBA, so whether I'm playing for a losing team or a winning team, I just go out there and play hard. I don't want to cheat the game. I don't want to say I'm playing harder just because I'm not in D.C.
AG: Antawn Jamison got out right after you and ended up in Cleveland. Were you excited for him?
BH: I'm happy for 'Tawn. He really wanted to compete for a championship, so I'm happy he's able to get that opportunity. At the same time, I'm happy for myself, Caron [Butler] and DeShawn [Stevenson], too, because we went from a situation that's very tough to something that can be very special.
|Friday's Daily Zap: March 7|
Check out the daily grab bag of NBA Action in Friday's Daily Zap.
|Asik Denies Mahinmi|
Ian Mahinmi tries the dunk on the baseline drive and Omer Asik rises up to block the attempt and in transition Jordan Hamilton knocks down the triple pleasing Hakeem Olajuwon and the home crowd.
|Block of the Night - Kris Humphries|
Paul Pierce drives in for the layup and Kris Humphries skies up and smashes it against the backboard.
|Steal of the Night - Kyrie Irving|
Kyrie Irving blindsides Gary Neal with the backside steal and feeds Dion Waiters who slashes in for the thunderous tomahawk jam.
|Friday's Top 10: March 7|
Countdown the top ten plays from Friday night's action in the NBA.