In their 10th and final season, the Charlotte Bobcats are gearing up for one last shot at accomplishing something that no Bobcats team has done before—winning playoff games.
Charlotte has made the playoffs one time before, getting swept by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic back in 2009-10. Getting over that hump is something that will go a long way towards establishing a new winning culture in the city of Charlotte before the Hornets are brought back next season.
Making the postseason in the Eastern Conference this season is like winning a participation medal. Every team that doesn't make it should truly be ashamed of themselves. The Toronto Raptors currently occupy the No. 3 seed with a 39-30 record. The same record in the Western Conference would be good enough for 10th place, falling short of qualifying for the playoffs.
Nevertheless, it is a welcome accomplishment for a team so commonly associated with losing. The Bobcats haven't just passed the baton to the Philadelphia 76ers for being the laughing stock of basketball, but have taken it a step further and made a number of trades and signings to right the ship. Owner Michael Jordan has been heavily criticized in the past, but now has a couple of things clicking.
Charlotte is currently sitting in possession of the No. 7 seed in the east with a 34-37 record. They have a 4.5 game lead on the ninth-place New York Knicks.
The great news for the Bobcats is that all of their remaining 11 games are against teams from the Eastern Conference. Better yet, seven of those teams are way under .500. Of the four games left against teams over .500, Charlotte plays three of the four at home. Unless they had 11 games left against just Philly and Milwaukee, it would be hard to ask for a better stretch to finish the season.
The eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks have seven of their 13 remaining games against playoff teams, which doesn't include a matchup on the road against the high-powered Minnesota Timberwolves that is immediately followed by a matchup with Portland the next day. They have just a 2.5 game advantage ahead of the Knicks.
The Knicks have eight of their final 12 games on the road, five of which are against playoff teams. The team is also on the verge of starting a five-game West Coast road trip that takes place all in the course of seven days. Nine of their last 12 games are against playoff teams as well.
The schedules could not possibly favor Charlotte anymore than they already do. The Knicks and Hawks have brutal roads the rest of the way, while the Bobcats should have no trouble whatsoever with the coming weeks.
The Knicks are coming off a recently snapped eight-game winning streak, granted only one of the victories was over a winning team. Still, the Knicks have undoubtedly been playing quite well as they are showing the fire that was lacking all season. They will need it as they do have some ground to make up.
Charlotte, with its cupcake schedule down the stretch, is going to be nearly impossible to catch, but the Knicks could have no problem catching the Hawks for the final spot if they keep up their level of play.
Atlanta has lost 17 of its past 23 games. The Hawks don't even look like they want to be in the playoffs as they trot out lineups not much more inspiring than those being used by the tanking trio of Orlando, Philly and Milwaukee. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague's inspiring play is the only thing keeping them from joining that group.
Charlotte has mostly been doing well save for a couple of hiccups recently against Atlanta and Houston. They have gone 7-4 since LeBron James abused them for 61 points, a game that went a long way with this team.
Al Jefferson, along with some great coaching from Steve Clifford has almost single-handedly changed the culture of this team both on the court and in the locker room.
Lee Jenkins with Sports Illustrated did a wonderful, extensive feature piece on Jefferson and documented the little things that Jefferson has brought to the team, namely the handling of the locker room following James' outburst.
"After LeBron James scored 61 points against the Bobcats, Jefferson told Kidd-Gilchrist, James's primary defender, 'He didn't score 61 on you. He scored 61 on all of us.' Two days later an emboldened Kidd-Gilchrist guarded Indiana's Paul George, who went 0 for 9 with two points," said Jenkins.
Things like that are what will keep Charlotte afloat. This team is too consistent on defense and too locked in with the structure of the offense to stray too far from what they have been doing. There is no late season swoon to be had, especially with such a paltry schedule.
Odds: 95 Percent
All things considered, Charlotte has ridden its defense to a solid season. The things that they do on the court do not equate to long losing streaks, which is exactly what it would take for them to miss out on the postseason this year.
Their schedule is laughable compared to the ones sported by Atlanta and New York. It is hard to believe, but with each passing day it is becoming less of a dream and more of a formality that the Bobcats will be heading to play some extra basketball this year. What they will do when they get there is anybody's guess, as they will likely get matched up with the Miami Heat, but Rome was not built in a day. This franchise is taking a big step in the right direction.
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