At times, the lead was in doubt, but the Bobcats maintained control of tonight's game from start to finish, knocking off the Atlanta Hawks, 98-91. In the standings, they pass New Jersey, who lost to Orlando tonight, and will be right at the cusp of the eight seed in the Eastern Conference tomorrow with both Milwaukee and Chicago, who are playing each other.
Once again, the formula held true: Big, though not spectacular, contributions from four of five starters, the reserves didn't embarrass themselves, and the opponents found themselves struggling to get their offense going for long stretches. Raja can be forgiven for struggling, given his shoulder injury. On offense, he doesn't do much more than spot up shooting, and he was only 5-13 from the field, including 1-6 from three. But he wasn't particularly missed.
Raymond scored 17 points and dished 10 assists. Gerald scored 21 points on 9-13 shooting, grabbed 7 rebounds, and had 2 blocks. Emeka continued his quiet excellence, with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and his usual solid defense. And Boris had the best game of them all, scoring 13 points on 6-8 shooting and making 13 assists. Yeah, he led the game with 4 turnovers, but that was because so much of the offense went through him. I only remember one pass that was particularly poor.
The Hawks killed themselves by benching Josh Smith at halftime because, according to the AP recap, he argued with coach Mike Woodson. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Smith is a key player, one of the Hawks' two best, with Joe Johnson. They were already a little small, if still explosive off the dribble, with Smith at the four and Horford at the five. Replacing him with Maurice Evans and shifting Marvin Williams to the four makes them even smaller. The Bobcats outrebounded the Hawks by 9 for the game, which probably helped close the turnover gap.
So where do we go from here? Immediately, the Bobcats head for New York, where they'll take on the Knicks for the second half of the back to back Saturday night. As always with Mike D'Antoni's teams, there's a strong chance the Bobcats will succumb to the Knicks' pace and style and play their game instead of dictating a deliberate style more conducive to their skills.
The Knicks have been sliding, going 4-10 in their last 14 games, but they'll be well rested, having last played on Wednesday, when they hosted Atlanta and won. On the other hand, it's the first half of a back to back for them--though they'll only be "traveling" to Jersey--so it's possible D'Antoni will limit his starters' minutes.
Ideally, the Cats will pick their moments to run, instead grinding out possessions and forcing David Lee, Al Harrington, and Chris Wilcox to guard both Emeka and Boris on the block. It could be a battle between ideologies, with a massively disproportionate time of possession, seven seconds or less versus walk it up the floor double screens off the wings never take a three when a two will do.
I put this one in the tossup column because the Knicks have played inspired ball this year, despite the roster turnover and total change in philosophy, kind of like the bizarro Bobcats. Having already negotiated the first leg of this four-game gauntlet, Charlotte has gained a little wiggle room, but not much, and simply can't afford to lose this game. They're headed to San Antonio next, where they'll certainly have a tough go of it, and then come home to play Houston, which will be yet another level of challenge.
13-7 to the eight seed. Every win is precious.