Charlotte Bobcats: State of the Roster | Post Draft

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"With the 12th pick in the 2009 NBA DRAFT..." ©Bobcats.com

Prior to the 2004 NBA Draft, former Bobcats GM/Coach Bernie Bickerstaff managed to hoodwink the lowly Clippers into trading down from #2 to #4 in order for Charlotte to select Emeka Okafor.  That was the first and last great draft move made by the organization and ever since then Bobcats fans have been subjected to picks ranging from mediocre to mind-numbingly stupid.

A quick recap for the masochistic:

  • 2005: Needing a Point Guard, the Bobcats refuse to trade up with Portland (who practically begs Charlotte for the 5th and 13th selections in return for #3).  Portland eventually trades with Utah for a lesser package of draft choices.  Utah drafts Deron Williams at #3, New Orleans drafts Chris Paul at #4, Bobcats reach for Raymond Felton at #5.  Bickerstaff cites “needing bodies” as the reason for hanging on to the #13 selection and not trading up.  The #13 pick?  Sean “Crab Bread” May.
  • 2006: Bobcats have a decent foundation with Felton, Okafor and Wallace and are in need of a dynamic scoring wing player.  They own the #3 selection overall and have their choice of either future All-Star Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay.  They select a non-athletic white guy with a crappy mustache gimmick and diabetes.
  • 2007: Bobcats realize that they wiffed big with Adam Morrison a year earlier so get creative and ship their #8 selection (Brandon Wright) to Golden State for Jason Richardson.  Later in the first round, they draft hustling, former ACC Player of the Year Jared Dudley.  Richardson and Dudley would later turn into a combination of Boris Diaw and Raja Bell.
  • 2008: With new coach Larry Brown, the Bobcats future looks brighter than ever.  With a foundation of Okafor, Felton, Wallace and Richardson, the team looks to add size in the frontcourt in order to contend for a playoff spot.  Stanford Center Brook Lopez is sliding and Charlotte is on the clock.  They select…5’10” PG DJ Augustin.  That’s ok, because they added size later by trading a future first round pick for a 7’1″ guy out of France who only out-weighs ‘Lil Augustin by 40 pounds.

So it might amaze the few people out there who are actually paying attention to all of this that the Bobcats just completed their first intelligent, completely rational, well-scouted and well-executed draft in five years.  WOO-HOO!!!

They didn’t royally screw it up as they did with May, Morrison or Ajinca.  They didn’t desperately reach for decent players like Felton or Augustin earlier in the lottery.  Nope, in Duke’s Gerald Henderson they picked a solid player from a great collegiate program who fits a position of need at exactly the spot they should have.  And to top it off, they added another great value pick (Xavier’s Derrick Brown) mid-way through the second round.  Props to MJ, Higgins and Coach Brown for killing it last night.  Your efforts are much appreciated.

STATE OF THE ROSTER

Now that we know who the picks are, it’s easier to see what the Bobcats will be focusing on once we hit free-agency in the next two weeks.

Starting Five

As of today, the starting lineup remains the same.  Henderson only starts if Raja goes down for any stretch.
Keep an eye out for anymore Dalembert rumors between now and next week.  If a Dalembert deal goes down, look forward to a summer of madness because this likely means that Emeka will be shipped off at some point to bring in a big-time scorer.

Second Unit | Post-Draft

Last night’s draft fills the backup SG position and potentially the backup PF position as well depending on how quickly Derrick Brown develops.  As of this writing, the Bobcats have a total of ten players under contract and two draft selections, leaving two roster spots available.  I think it’s pretty safe to assume that both Alexis Ajinca and Derrick Brown will spend the first couple of months of the season in the D-League so that would leave room for another veteran PF and veteran 3rd PG to be added sometime during Free Agency or Training Camp.

Even if the ‘Cats don’t make any major moves between now and the start of the season, the team is probably looking like a 38-42 win squad in a tougher Eastern Conference.  If they can find a way to add an offensive Alpha Dog either through a trade (Monta Ellis) or through free agency (Iverson), add another 4-6 wins to that total.

We’ll have more offseason coverage starting next week during our “Free Agency Preview.”

–ASChin

POLL : The Gerald Henderson Pick?

  • Great Draft Pick (26%, 6 Votes)
  • Decent Selection for #12 Pick (61%, 14 Votes)
  • Bad Pick - Duke Sucks (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Go Heels! (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Derrick Brown Was A Better Pick (9%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 23

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Bobcats Draft Rumors – Roundup

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T-Will at 12?

Editor’s Note: We’ll continue to post updates to this thread as we head towards Thursday’s Draft.  It’s a blog within a blog!

MJ shooting down T-Will?

According to ESPN.com, Michael Jordan nixed the Terrence Williams “Promise” after the Henderson/T-Will workout Monday and would rather have the team trade the pick or select Wake Forest’s James Johnson.

T-Will going 11th to New Jersey?!?!?!

ESPN NBA Draft God Chad Ford updated his mock draft twice on Wednesday — he’s up to v6.2 as I write this.  Unfortunately, Ford has New Jersey taking probable Bobcats target Terrence Williams with the 11th pick, leaving the Cats with Gerald Henderson (or the possibility of trading down).  Ford speculates that even though Williams skipped a second look with the Nets on Tuesday, the Nets have him above Henderson and Hansbrough on their draft board.

So does this make the Nets like a teenage girl who sees her old boyfriend with a rival female, then goes all psycho-bitch and becomes obsessed with getting him back?

ESPN NBA Underlord Chris Broussard offers a few more tidbits about the Nets draft preparations (scroll down to the June 24, 5:53 PM update).  Apparently, Brandon Jennings was great in that Tuesday workout (the one that T-Will bailed on), but will nonetheless slip by due to the feeling that he’s a few years away from really contributing at the NBA level.  Broussard offers that the Nets do like Hansbrough, but probably not enough to spend the 11th pick on him.

In other words, (continuing the teenage girl comparison) they like Hansbrough, but don’t “like-like” him.

Raja to Golden State?

Golden State appears to be exploring possibilities to improve on the defensive end in hopes of making a strong run to the playoffs next season. One trade that has reportedly been offered by the Charlotte Bobcats that may help on that front would involve packaging Kelenna Azubuike and Marco Belinelli in exchange for Raja Bell. The Warriors are pondering the offer, but would have to get Azubuike’s consent to make the trade unless they decided to wait until July 24th.

Reported at DraftExpress.com.

Bill Simmons & Chad Ford like Iverson, Williams and the Bobcats as a Playoff team in ’09-’10

In the latest episode of “The B.S. Report” Bill Simmons and Chad Ford end the show with a bit on Iverson/Coach Brown/Terrence Williams and the Bobcats future.

Download the podcast here.

Dalembert Trade?

The Dalembert rumors don’t seem to want to go away.  This report from Philly has the Bobcats sending Radmanovic, Mohammed and the 12 pick to Philly for Dalembert and the 17.  Not sure how Samuel fits in with Okafor so if this deal were to go down, look for a blockbuster Emeka trade post-moratorium.

Rod Higgins gives Promise Ring to T-Will?

ESPN.com reports that Terrence Williams has pulled out of his workout scheduled today with the New Jersey Nets citing an “ankle injury.”  Rumor has it that T-Will was pulled aside yesterday after his one-on-one workout with Gerald Henderson and given a promise that if he’s there at number 12, the Bobcats will take him.

Seems like the Coach Brown, MJ, and Higgins agree with Jay Bilas.

Gerald Henderson shouldn’t feel bad though as the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bulls are trying to trade up into the lottery for him.

Also, Bonnell just reported that the Bobcats are not extending a qualifying offer to RFA Sean May.  We saw this one coming.  Don’t be surprised if May is brought back at a lower number later next month.

Charlotte Bobcats 2009 NBA Draft Preview: Part 1

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State of the Roster & Team Needs

Starting Five

Heading into the 2009 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Bobcats find themselves in some pleasantly unfamiliar territory.  Not only does the team have a lot of proven NBA talent, they also have fewer question marks than ever before.  With the team very likely to re-sign PG Raymond Felton, the Bobcats will begin the ’09–’10 NBA season with last season’s starting lineup intact with all but Raja Bell entering their prime playing years.

The Charlotte Bobcats Reserves

The Bobcats second unit also brings back at least three quality regular rotation players – one of which, second-year point guard DJ Augustin, could start for a half-dozen teams in the League.

Alas, as good as it is in Bobcat-land this offseason, it’s still not perfect.  There are several major personnel questions that the team must address during the draft and free agency.

1. $104 million, 5 years, 3 players and 0 All-Stars

The Bobcats have committed a whopping $104+ million over the next five seasons at the center position alone.  This wouldn’t be such a nightmare if Yao Ming or Dwight Howard were patrolling the middle but the platoon of Emeka Okafor, Gana Diop and Nazr Mohammed hasn’t even a single All-Star selection amongst them (though Okafor may finally break through this season).
It’s nice to have depth in the middle but a small-market-for-sale franchise like the Bobcats can’t have this type of money tied up at one position.  There’s been a lot of conjecture recently about the “inevitable Nazr Mohammed trade” but maybe we’re all looking in the wrong direction.  Given Larry Brown’s series of thinly veiled rips on Okafor in the local media added to the fact that Emeka’s status as a base year compensation player is now over and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Okafor was shopped hard this offseason.  He’s by far the most attractive of the group – with a decent contract, good game and a great attitude – and given his large cap number could be the center of a major deal that returned another big-time player, ideally a dynamic shooting guard with a shorter contract.
Maybe a deal that sends Okafor to Detroit for Rip Hamilton makes some sense with Diop stepping in as the starting center.
In fact, if an Okafor trade like this were to happen during the summer, you could argue that the earlier Diop trade was part of the organization’s greater Master Plan.  Of course, that would require you to believe that the the Bobcats organization actually plans things.

2. Ten seconds left on the clock, who’s the man?

Well, it sure as hell shouldn’t be Raymond Felton.  We appreciate your effort Raymond, seriously, we do.  But your inability to get anything done on the offensive end when it matters most was so damn infuriating that it almost made us forget about all the things that you are good at.
If a deal like the one mentioned above can be worked out in order to bring in a ballsy scorer in from another team then the Bobcats should pounce on it because their current lack of a crunch-time scorer will be the difference between them winning 38 games or 50 games.
If a trade can’t be worked out, then there’s only one option.  Iverson.  Period.
There’s nobody in this draft (save maybe Stephen Curry) who could be the man this year.  It may require the team to part with Okafor, DJ Augustin or their lottery pick but a go-to scorer is their most pressing need for certain.

3. Who backs up the Phoen-Ex Suns?

Charlotte’s strong playoff push ostensibly ended with Raja Bell’s calf injury in early April.  With Bell out, the Bobcats had to play too small and too young with DJ Augustin and Cartier Martin.  The Bobcats clearly need to find some depth at the 2-guard and if a trade like the one mentioned above can’t be made then the Draft has a few quality options.
The Bobcats can either hope one of the “upside” guys like Tyreke Evans or DeMar DeRozan falls to them at pick twelve or try to hit a solid double with Duke’s Gerald Henderson (the “Emeka Okafor” of shooting guard prospects).  We’ll have more in-depth previews on all of the collegiate players in our next post.

The same goes for the other ex-Sun, Boris Diaw.  The Bobcats were lucky that Boris stayed healthy following the trade because there wasn’t much depth behind him and the team seemed to have finally made good on their promise not to play Gerald Wallace out of position.  Coach Brown seemed to be impressed with Pittsburgh’s Dejuan Blair during his recent workout with the team and the big man could be there at twelve when the Bobcats pick.

We also shouldn’t forget the other overweight power-forward with bad knees, Mr. Crab Bread himself, Sean May.  If the team and May’s agent can come to an agreement in which May hits the unrestricted market and re-signs with the team for a league minimum one or two year contract, then a motivated, healthy Sean May could be the nice surprise in ’09–’10.

It’s all good.

The fact that I can type “The Bobcats are only a piece or two away from 50+ wins” with a straight face means that there has been considerable progress.  Putting aside five years worth of questionable draft selections, poor business decisions and overt cronyism, the ‘Cats find themselves now with one of the League’s best coaches, the promise of new ownership, a lottery pick, a little cap space and a few solid assets to play with during the offseason.  For Bobcats fans, the future’s never been brighter.

-ASChin

Charlotte Bobcats Season In Review – Part 3

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Trades & Acquisitions

The All New, All Improved Bobcats

Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Vlad Radmanovic

The Charlotte Bobcats made three major in-season trades during the ’08-’09 season involving eleven different players. Coupled with the free agent signings of Juwan Howard, Cartier Martin and assorted other D-Leaguers, Charlotte suited up a total of 24 players – most in the League. One anonymous fan commented on SI.com that “the Bobcats make more roster moves than a fantasy team.” It sure seemed that way.

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Charlotte Bobcats vs. Heat 4/3/09

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1.  The Bobcats fall to the Heat on Friday night at the Cable Box, 97-92.  AP story here, box score here, PopcornMachine GameFlow here.  The Bobcats fall to 34-42, 2 games back from 8th place Chicago, 2.5 games back from 7th place Detroit.

2.  As the sloshed, 45-year-old Dwyane Wade fanboy one section over chanted all night, “it’s a slow death” being a Bobcats fan right now.  With every loss in the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the schedule and said, “well, we can still go X-and-X from here out and make it.  And we’re still there: if we run the table and win all six remaining games, we probably still have a shot at the playoffs.  That would include wins at Detroit and Chicago (our direct competitors for the last spot) and would get us to 40 wins.

Let’s face reality, though — it ain’t gonna happen.  But until the day when we’re mathematically eliminated, it’s going to continue to be a slow death.

3.  The crowd was announced as a sellout again, but again there were plenty of empty seats.  Still a great crowd, though.  And we did get to experience the aforementioned Green Night.  Everyone got a free Sprite/Bobcats t-shirt in a colorway that is best described as: faded puke lime green.  And early-comers/season-ticket holders got reusable Harris-Teeter grocery bags.

Of course the big draw was the green jerseys — not bad, actually.  I’m far from a uni-traditionalist, so I actually like alternate/special jerseys in most cases.  But pardon me for asking: how is it “green” to produce a whole new batch of jerseys and thousands of giveaway t-shirts at the end of the season?  I have to assume the jerseys will be auctioned off with proceeds benefitting some green charity, right?

4.  On to the actual game.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Cats come out of the gates strong, defending well, keeping the opponent’s star in check.  They move the ball well and shoot a high percentage; only to falter, go cold and move away from what was working in the first place later on.  The game is tight throughout the second half; but down the stretch, when the good teams in the league turn everything up a notch and stars rise to the occasion, the Bobcats wither, unable to score when it counts.

I feel like I’ve written that numerous times this year, and thought it countless times over the past five seasons.  And it’s OK, it’s to be expected.  The Bobcats haven’t done much to get respect from the officials, so we’re never going to get the benefit of the doubt on close calls.  We’ll rarely shoot more free throws than the opponents in an important game.  And we don’t have anything close to a superstar who would be a force on the offensive end — someone the opponents have to double-team, someone who can get to the rim, draw a foul, create his own shot and make it reliably.

5.  So while I know that the Bobcats don’t have that star player who can take the game in his hands down the stretch, I’m going to keep beating the drum that there has to be a better option than Raymond Felton.  With 30 seconds left, down three, everyone standing, the Cats have the ball.  Of course, it’s in Raymond’s hands.  No one else appears to be doing much to get open or run a play — if they were, the Heat foiled it pretty easily.  Felton drives, overpenetrates, and has to try a difficult layup.  It misses badly.  Of course, there is contact, and of course, everyone cries for a foul.  No such call is made.  Heat rebound, game pretty much over.

Felton is like the anti-Dwayne Wade in this respect.  Something about the symphony of bodies flying around near the basket when Felton drives looks different enough to the refs that they swallow their whistle instead of blowing it.  When penetrating, he seems to do just a bit too much to avoid the contact.  So after doing just a bit too much, he’s left with an impossible, contorted layup attempt.

In part, it’s because Felton’s not as an explosive leaper as Wade, and maybe isn’t quite as strong either.  But most of all, it’s just a knack that Wade has that Felton doesn’t.  There’s something innate that allows Wade to accept (or initiate) just the right amount of contact in just the right way, while still allowing himself enough control to still get a reasonable shot attempt up.

6.  To beat a dead horse, Wade drew a foul and hit both free throws on the other end to pump the lead to 94-89 with 19 seconds left.  Diaw hit a quick three on the other end to close the gap to two again with 16 seconds left.  Next possesion, Wade draws another foul.  This time, he only hits one of two free throws to leave the door open a sliver: 95-92 Heat with 12 seconds left, Bobcats ball.

Needing a three, Larry Brown inexplicably leaves this lineup on the floor: DJ, Raymond, Wallace, Diaw and Okafor.  Now Raja Bell was out after straining his calf earlier in the game, but is there any reason not to have Radmanovic or even Cartier Martin out there?  When you have to shoot a three, don’t you want as many shooters out there as possible?  I can understand Okafor being there — maybe he gets to bat a rebound out for another attempt at a three; but seriously, why is Gerald out there?  Or Felton, for that matter?  Those two are shooting 29% and 28%, respectively, on threes this year.

Anyways, the ball ends up in Raymond’s hands (it’s almost as if opponents want him to be the shooter in these situations, huh?  Ya don’t think?…. Nah…) and he has to fire up the three.  It’s contested well, but still a decent look.  Brick, game over.

7.  For the Heat, D-Wade was great — kind of on a consistent, slow burn all night until the fourth quarter, when he really turned it on.  Raja Bell checked him in the first half, but went out just minutes into the third quarter with a calf strain.  That left Cartier Martin to guard Wade for the entire third quarter.  Cartier did a decent job, holding Wade to just five points in that stretch.  But he was getting a lot of help from teammates, as Wade’s 5 assists during the third quarter would attest to.  Raymond also did a decent job with the impossible task of guarding Wade in the fourth quarter — Wade’s simply too good.

Michael Beasley was pretty impressive in 27 minutes, going 7-9 for 14 smooth points with 4 rebounds.  If he ever gets a motor and commits to playing defense, the sky’s the limit.  If not, hello Derrick Coleman 2.0.

Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal both went out with turned ankles at different points in the second half — both returned eventually.  Udonis Haslem busted his shooting hand on the backboard or rim playing defense and needed stitches.  Reports are he’ll probably shut it down for the rest of the season to let the gash heal.

8.  For the Cats, Gerald Wallace had a nice game: 21 points (8-12 FG, 4-4 FT), 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.  One of those blocks was on a Dwayne Wade dunk attempt — just amazing, and had the Cats won the game I’d probably write a whole paragraph on it.  But check the GameFlow and it will show that Wallace accumulated all of those stats in the first three quarters.  Despite playing all 12 minutes of the fourth, he registered only 3 fouls and 2 turnovers in the quarter.  Not a single point, rebound, assist or block.  This happens far too often — we have to find some way to keep Gerald involved in the fourth quarter.

Bell is possibly done for the year with a bad calf strain.  He walked off gingerly with assistance from the Human Crutch, Sean May; postgame, Larry Brown said that Raja said he felt it pop, which usually means a pretty significant muscle tear.

Bad game for Radmanovic: I asked earlier why he wasn’t out there to close the game when we needed a three, and the best answer is that he had performed miserably thus far in the game.  0-6 in 17 minutes, 0-2 from three.

9.  Six games left, need ‘em all:

Sun, Apr 5    @ Detroit    6:00 PM
Tue, Apr 7    Philadelphia    7:00 PM
Fri, Apr 10    @ Oklahoma City    8:00 PM
Sat, Apr 11    @ Chicago    8:30 PM
Mon, Apr 13    @ New Jersey    7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 15    @ Orlando    8:00 PM

Go Cats!

-E

Baseline Observations : Rockets @ Bobcats 3.13.09

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Rockets defeat Bobcats 3.13.2009

The Charlotte Bobcats let a close one slip away against the Houston Rockets on Friday the 13th.  Like a true NBA competition, it all came down to crunch time.

Box Score | Recap 

Throughout all four quarters, this was a tight game with each team trading the lead and “mini-runs” to counter each other.  The largest player on the court was also the the most dominant – Yao Ming.  There was really no answer for Yao, who showed a full array of post moves, defense, and shooting range.  The Bobcats focused most of their defense on quieting the rest of the Rockets and accepting their fate against Yao in the paint.  Obviously facing a tough match, Emeka Okafor had no luck offensively early in the game and he was visibly tired from his work inside against the 7’6″ center.  Larry Brown chose to plug Desagana Diop into the game to rest Okafor, and his fresh legs may have helped to restrain Yao briefly.

Elsewhere on the court, Boris Diaw was caught in early foul trouble and Vlade Radmanovic benefited from a bump in first half minutes.  He really took advantage of the opportunity during the second quarter with a series of drives and great outside shooting.  Rad Man really used his assignment on Brent Barry well.  Barry is an easy cover for a player as big as Vlade and couldn’t catch up as the Serbian came off screens.  While neither team was explosive on offense in the first half, Gerald Wallace found his usual numbers by playing like Gerald Wallace.  More importantly, he kept Ron Artest from finding a rhythm in the first half.

The Rockets have a force of a trio in Yao Ming, Ron Artest, and Shane Battier.  All can score in the paint, play strong defense, and hit mid-range shots.  The Bobcats survived the first half with only Yao scoring well.  The third quarter saw Charlotte struggling to knock down shots and Houston’s trio warming up.  Both Raymond Felton and Raja Bell threw repeated bricks at the rim.  Bell didn’t register a shot for the entire quarter.  Boris Diaw couldn’t find consistency in his offense and after a quick foul, he had to play a bit softer than usual on Luis Scola.  Scola took advantage of the match up and showed his inside game, taking Diaw into the paint at every chance.

Despite their struggles on offense, the Bobcats entered the fourth quarter down only by 5 points.  The game became much more intense after a few minutes of the final period.  The Bobcats pushed to close the gap to 3 pts (72-69) with a string of steals that lead to fast break buckets.   Each team then tightened their defense and traded stops before Vlade Radmanovich was fouled shooting a 3 point attempt.  He knocked down 2 of 3 and the Bobcats were only behind by 1 with seven minutes left in the game.

The Rockets regained the lead but after a big steal and save by Raja Bell on Houston’s side of the court, Bell tipped in a put back attempt by Okafor to give Charlotte a 1 point lead.  By this point – it was crunch time.  

Raymond Felton returned to replace DJ Augustin and Gerald Wallace rotated back in for Radmanovich. Augustin had searched for offense the entire game with little success shooting or creating assists.  He frequently lost track of the perimeter shooters when driving into the lane.  The inside presence of the Rockets didn’t allow DJ a single chance to use his reverse layup move, so he had to pass to the nearest teammate – thus, extinguishing the set play for that possession.  In contrast, Felton attempted shots when the opportunity presented itself and passed based upon what he was reading on the court.  The Bobcats guards came up big in the final stretch of the game.  Although Raja Bell had shot a terrible 2 of 12 going into the 4th, he was determined to keep shooting.  Luckily, he started hitting the baskets that the Cats needed.

It looked like a rough ending for Charlotte at 2:08 left in the fourth.  But there was still more action to come.  With the shot clock running down on the Rockets Yao Ming caught a pass at the top of the key and knocked down a three pointer (his first of the season) to push Houston’s lead to 6.  Coach Brown called a time out and somehow things started to click.  Raja Bell answered with a 3 and then Diaw put in a quick layup after a Felton steal to close the deficit to 1 point.

On the next possession, Ron Artest was determined to make a big play and held the ball longer than anyone had all game.  Gerald Wallace matched him move for move and as Yao Ming attempted to set a screen for Artest he fouled Wallace turning possession over to the Bobcats.  Less than a minute was left in the game and Charlotte need to score.  Okafor missed a close attempt inside against Yao, but the ball bounced back to the direction of Raja Bell who shot it off the glass and through the rim.  Cats took the lead 86 – 85, but that didn’t last long.  Ron Artest shook Gerald Wallace off of him and hit an open shot from the top of the key to put the Rockets ahead by 1.  Following a miss by Raja Bell (his first of the fourth quarter), the Bobcats had to play the foul game. After Aaron Brooks put in two free throws, a three pointer was Charlotte’s only hope of tying the game.  Unfortunately, Ron Artest saw the play coming from a mile away and blocked Radmanovich’s attempt with 7 seconds left, snatched up the ball, and put it in on a fast break to seal the game.

Charlotte Bobcats vs. Hawks 3/6/09

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1.  The Bobcats make it 5 in a row tonight by defeating the Hawks at the Cable Box, 98-91.  AP story here, box score here.  The Cats move to 18-15 at home, 27-35 overall, and are just 1.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot.

2.  This was another well-rounded effort, with all five starters playing big minutes and getting to double figures.  Larry Brown has tightened his rotation significantly, with only DJ, Radman and Diop getting action off the bench.  For the game the Cats shot 54%.  They outrebounded the Hawks 40-31, and had 29 assists vs. 10 turnovers.

3.  The Cats opened the game with their best quarter of the season, scoring 36 points on 17-21 FG (81%!).  They looked really sharp in taking advantage of the Hawks lack of interior defense, tallying assists on 14 of 17 field goals, most of them layups.  That scintillating quarter provided a 15 point lead that proved to be just enough cushion for the rest of the game.

The Hawks gradually chipped away at the lead and actually pulled to within two on a Mo Evans tip with 8 minutes left.  However, Radmanovic answered with a high-arching well defended 12-footer on the next possession, followed by Diop getting a tip-in of his own to extend the lead back out to a more comfortable six.

Down the stretch, Raymond Felton had two huge layups (the second one drew a foul on Horford for a three-point play) to put the game away.

4.  After posting a decent first half line of 13 points (6-10 FG), 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, Josh Smith was benched for the second half.  He apparently got into a shouting match with coach Mike Woodson on the way to the locker room for halftime.  No definitive word yet on what the dispute was over, but I have to imagine it had something to do with the crappy defense the Hawks were playing.  Whatever it wasy, Smith’s absence in the second half was certainly an advantage for the Cats.

5.  Gerald Wallace led the way with 21 points (9-13 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a team-high +20 +/-.  Felton (17 pts on 7-13 FG and 10 assists) and Diaw (13 points on 6-8 FG and 13 assists) both had double-doubles, as did Okafor (17 points on 6-12 FG, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks).

Raja Bell looked like he was trying to force a similar performance out of his bad shoulder as he managed Wednesday night; didn’t happen as he finished with 5-13 FG (1-6 3PT).  However, he played great defense on Joe Johnson, who never got it going tonight.

Gana Diop deserves special mention again.  In 18 minutes off the bench he had 6 points (3-5 FG) and 7 rebounds (4 offensive).  Just as he did on Wednesday night, Diop was huge spelling Okafor in the fourth quarter, when the opponent was making a mad rush to get back in the game.

6.  I can’t help but think back to the last time we faced the Hawks — exactly a month ago.  Gerald Wallace was out with a lung, and Adam Morrison was subbing for him.  Marvin Williams abused Morrison to the tune of 29 points on 18-20 FTs and the Hawks pulled out a win.  Not coincidentally, Morrison was traded less than 48 hours later.

Now we have a much more functional Vladimir Radmanovic in the Morrison role, and Gerald Wallace back in midseason form — big difference.  Needless to say, Marvin Williams had a much more pedestrian 13 points on 5-15 FG tonight.

7.  The crowd started off disappointingly small for a Friday night, but by the end of the first quarter had filled in a bit to normal “Friday night” levels.  So far, no bump that I could tell from Playoff Mania (or Bojangles All-You-Can-Eat night).  On the other hand, the crowd that was there seemed to be well aware that the Cats are playing well and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

8.  So the NBA scoreboard for the night shows some positive results for the Cats.  Chicago beat Milwaukee to take sole possession of the 8th spot.  This works well as we hold the tiebreaker over the Bulls.  And the Magic beat the Nets, who fall back into a tie with the Cats just 1.5 games back of Chicago.

9.  The Bobcats are off to New York to face D’Antoni’s Knicks on Saturday night (7:30 PM ET).  Elsewhere, Milwaukee will be hosting Golden State in the only other game of consequence to the Cats.  So, uh, go Warriors!

-E