Are the Charlotte Bobcats a Playoff Team?
Throughout the first five years of their existence, the Bobcats have been one of the worst franchises in all of sports. They have failed to reach the playoffs in all five seasons and have won no more than 35 games. Frustration has been openly expressed about the some of the franchise’s decisions (exercising Adam Morrison’s option comes to mind), and there has clearly been a lack of confidence in ownership.
Though they have demonstrated consistent improvement, I’m sure the citizens of Charlotte are becoming anxious to once again experience a winning brand of basketball. In a state where basketball is considered king, patience has to be running low.
After starting the season 3-7, the state of affairs in Charlotte seemed to be getting no better and dissatisfaction was clearly mounting among teammates and fans alike. Then ownership made a shrewd deal, bringing in veteran Stephen Jackson and seldom-used Acie Law from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Raja Bell and Vladmir Radmanovich.
Since the arrival of Jackson, the Bobcats have been a vastly improved team and are currently in the midst of a four-game winning streak that includes an impressive victory over the vaunted Cleveland Cavaliers. Through their first 10 games, the Bobcats were averaging 83.3 points. In their last six, since Jackson joined the team, they have bumped up their average to 96.8 points per game on their way to a 4-2 record.
The Bobcats have been stout on the defensive side of the ball all season, holding their opponents under 100 points in all but two games. The Knicks scored 102 in an overtime win and the high-powered Hawks managed to get 103 points.
Now that they have added an additional weapon on offense and continue their intensity on the defensive side of the ball, this team is starting to gain some confidence and momentum.
In a top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Bobcats sit at 7-9, which currently puts them at the seventh seed if the playoffs were to start today. With seven of their next 14 games coming against teams well below the .500 mark, I would not be surprised to see the Bobcats begin gaining some ground on both Milwaukee and Miami, currently in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively.
As it stands now, their only realistic competition for the final two playoff spots are Chicago, Indiana, and Toronto. Washington might eventually start clicking and make a run at one of those spots, but that seems unlikely with the way they have been struggling.
The Cats have a solid core of players to build around in Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, and Raymond Felton. They have some good complimentary pieces in Boris Diaw, Flip Murray, and Nazr Mohammed.
D.J. Augustin has been struggling mightily this season, but his rookie campaign proved that he has the ability to compete at this level. If he can regain his confidence, he should be able to provide some much needed production off of the bench.
Rookie Gerald Henderson could see his minutes increase if Augustin continues to struggle. Henderson has shown flashes of why the Cats drafted him in the first round this year. Fellow rookie Derrick Brown has also been a key contributor off the bench and will continue to be an important factor with the Bobcats' lack of depth at the power forward.
Tyson Chandler has been dealing with some lingering injuries, but once he becomes fully healthy and acclimated to Larry Brown’s offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him begin resembling his 2007-08 form.
In a conference that is built for tough, ugly, grind-it-out types of teams, the Bobcats seem perfectly suited to remain a competitive force as the season progresses. The type of play in the Eastern Conference plays right into their strengths as a team and if they can learn how to win more of those close games than they lose, this team definitely has their first playoff berth in their sights.
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