It was only five and a half years ago that the Bobcats trotted out perhaps the worst starting lineup in NBA history: Brevin Knight, Primoz Brezec, Jason Kapono, and young Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace. Jason Hart and Steve Smith (no, not that Steve Smith) were key contributors off the bench and the ‘Cats won a whopping 18 games.
Since then, the Bobcats added Stephen Jackson, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler, and most importantly, Larry Brown. Coach Brown put his “Play the Right Way” stamp on this team. Play defense. Good shot selection. Pass the ball. All of a sudden Charlotte is six games over .500 and in the playoffs. They won 19 games versus winning teams, including three versus the Cavaliers and another versus the Lakers.
The Bobcats don’t have the big stars of the Celtics, Lakers, or even the Heat. Big Shot Jack has (somehow) never made the All-Star Game, so Gerald Wallace is Charlotte’s lone All-Star; he was a reserve in Dallas this February. That said, this team has players who, well, play the game right. Raymond Felton has blossomed into a very nice point guard under LB and is a great leader late in games. Diaw, while undersized, often defends the other teams’ best big men, and defends them well. He can shoot well from anywhere on the floor and can pass as well as any point guard in the league.
We’ve all heard the phrase … defense wins championships. This concept works in every sport. Dominating defenses in the NFL make winners, just look at the Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, and Giants this past decade. Even in baseball, fielding is become a highly important skill, especially as new defensive metrics have come out. In 2008, the two best defensive teams were the Rays and World Champion Phillies while the worst was Texas, who only finished with 79 wins. And basketball is no exception.
The Bobcats are not only a great defensive team; they are the best defensive team. They led the league in points allowed with just 93.8 PPG. Gerald Wallace was just about the bets defensive small forward, shutting down LeBron James and several other swingmen. Stephen Jackson is another elite defender, along with Tyson Chandler down low. Off the bench, Tyrus Thomas and Theo Ratliff are terrific at blocking and altering shots and just clogging the lane. In fact, the biggest strength of the Bobcats is the biggest weakness of the Magic.
Sure, the Magic have Dwight Howard and Matt Barnes, two of the best defenders in the league, but their other tree starters play no defense at all. Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter play defense that wouldn’t even impress in a church basketball league. What this means is that Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, and Raymond Felton will run train on Orlando’s lackadaisical defense for about 80 points combined per game. Tyson Chandler isn’t much of an offensive force, so Dwight Howard won’t be taking much out of Charlotte’s offense.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest addition to the Bobcats over the last two years has been Larry Brown. Coaching makes a variable impact; it’s always hard to tell how much a coach really helps. Football Outsiders said that only two postseason head coaches impacted their team, Bill Belichick as a plus for the Pats and Norv Turner as a minus for the Chargers. Only four coaches in these NBA playoffs are Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, and Larry Brown. LB is perhaps the best coach ever in basketball, and his stamp on Charlotte is finally sealed.
Ultimately, the Bobcats play defense, rebound, play the right way, and out hustle their opponents. The last time the Bobcats and Magic played, the ‘Cats out-rebounded Orlando by 12. On the road. With Chandler coming off the bench. The Bobcats are giant killers and they have their sights set. Catch the fever, Bobcats fever, and jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late.
Cleveland (1) over Chicago (8) in 5
I don’t necessarily like the Cavs to win it all (contrary to popular picks), but they over-match the Bulls in almost every way. LBJ should cruise through this series without too much sweat. Shaq should become more acclimated to playing alongside Antawn Jamison and the new Cavs team.
Charlotte (7) over Orlando (2) in 7
Atlanta (3) over Milwaukee (6) in 5
Milwaukee played well this year, but no one can convince me that a streaky Brandon Jennings and old Michael Redd can take down the young run-and-gun Hawks team. Joe Johnson, J-Smooth, and Al Horford should have no problem penetrating with Andrew Bogut out for the year.
Boston (4) over Miami (5) in 6
Nearly everyone is down on the Celtics this year, but the hate has gone too far. All this team needs is to be healthy for the remainder of the year and play like a well-prepared team. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can still shoot as well as anyone and Rondo has become a top-5 NBA point guard. Miami can’t depend on D-Wade to win, and no team can win with Carlos Arroyo starting and giving major minutes to Dorrell Wright.
Los Angeles (1) over Oklahoma City (8) in 7
The Lakers are the defending champs, but the swap of Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest has been detrimental to the team. Because Andrew Bynum is still injured (no surprise here), Lamar Odom will start and leave the Lakers’ bench as the worst second string in the league. The Thunders have chemistry and young talent, but ultimately don’t have the playoff experience to down the Lakers.
Dallas (2) over San Antonio (7) in 7
Just like the Celtics, all the Spurs need to succeed is health. Tim Duncan will always be a beast in the paint and Manu Ginobli has been a man possessed the last month of the season. Tony Parker is finally healthy, and they still have Richard Jefferson. Unfortunately, they are up against Dallas. The Mavs are perhaps the deepest team in the playoffs since they added Caron Butler at the trade deadline. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Butler, Shawn Marion, and crew will be too much for even Popovich and Duncan to handle.
Phoenix (3) over Portland (6) in 6
The Portland Trailblazers have faced a New York Mets-esque injury plague this season. First Greg Oden, then Joel Pryzbila, and most importantly Brandon Roy. They are a great young team full of talent, but without Roy, this team is average. Phoenix is back to it’s run-and-gun style, and any team with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire has a chance in this league.
Utah (5) over Denver (4) in 7
Both teams have a great shot at going to the Championship Game, so its a shame Denver and Utah have to play each other in the first round. Utah has the modern day version of John Stockton and Karl Malone in Deron Williams. The Nuggets have a superstar scorer and perhaps the best playoff point guard of the past decade, Chauncey Billups. The reason I give the slight edge to the Jazz is coaching. Jerry Sloan is one of the best in the league, while Denver’s George Karl will miss the series.