During this 66-game season there will be nights when the Charlotte Bobcats are highly competitive and extremely fun to watch, like the first two games of this season. There will also be nights when they look completely discombobulated and out of sync, like tonight in a 100-79 loss to the Orlando Magic in Charlotte. In general, Orlando is not a good matchup for the Bobcats. Dwight Howard is such a presence inside that even when he doesn’t directly change a shot he changes an entire offensive possession.
Howard’s impression on a game is not unique to playing the Bobcats. The man’s shoulders alone could start for most college teams. But his presence is a particularly difficult obstacle for the Bobcats, and especially for this Bobcats team. As skilled and as impressive as Boris Diaw has been through the first two games, matching up against effing Dwight Howard (if watching your squad effort against Howard doesn’t evoke an "effing" here or there I don’t know what does) is such a challenge on both ends it completely changes the way Diaw was able to impact the game.
But it’s not just Diaw. Every Bobcat who got within a finger roll of the rim tonight was looking for Howard. And even when the Bobcats had a chance to run, for some reason they didn’t. To me, there is one recipe for success for this Charlotte team, run, score and be entertaining. The Bobcats were able to do none of these things tonight.
For starters, the Bobcats spotted the Magic 11 points in the first quarter, and the Magic were able to essentially use that cushion to keep the Cats at bay all night. Even when Charlotte looked to be making a push, cutting the lead to three in the first quarter (as close as they would get all night) the Magic would hit a shot which was most likely a three (12-28 on the night).
At best, the Bobcats turned into a jump-shooting team for most of the night. At worst the Bobcats were a fade-away jump-shooting team. The fears of Corey Maggette being a ball stopper in Charlotte’s offense were realized tonight, but that’s not really fair to him because that was happening all over the floor. Actually, Maggette hit the shots he should have tonight and played well offensively.
In the second half, the Bobcats made three shots in the paint, in the fourth quarter they attempted three. Sure, by that time Orlando was flirting with a twenty-point lead and Howard was putting the finishing touched on a 20-point, 24-rebound night. But all too often the Bobcats were left shooting jumpers, many times without threatening to do anything else.
Howard had such an effect on the Charlotte offense that even when the Bobcats drove to the basket it was just to create room for a kick-out. Strangely enough, the Bobcats looked like the team that had played the night before. Most jumpers found only the front of the rim and loose balls, especially early on, were almost impossible for the Cats to grasp.
If you’ve ever played against Orlando in NBA2K12, you easily recognized what was snowballing in the second half with its continued onslaught of three-pointers. The Magic rained down six three-pointers in the second half, five soul-crushing daggers in the fourth quarter alone. For much of the night, Ryan Anderson looked like the best player on the floor. Yes, at the end of the game you’d be hard pressed to find a Magic player that was more effective. For all Howard did, and he did a whole lot, Anderson hit just about every shot, inside and out, that was put in front of him.
All in all, it just wasn’t a great night for the Bobcats, but they were never completely out of the contest. I think that’s what the worst should look like for this team this year. It’s a horrible matchup for them, and it always has been since Howard was drafted. But this was definitely the worst game so far for Gerald Henderson (4-13, 8 points), Kemba Walker (just two points on 1-9 shooting in 17 minutes), and Diaw (10 points on 4-10 from the field) was quiet for most of the game.
Corey Maggette: After an AWFUL outing against the Heat this week, Maggette was much more confident and sure to shoot tonight. I commented on the ball getting stuck with him earlier, but again I think that was more of a reflection of the overall flow of the game. For the most part, he hit the shots that were open when the Bobcats needed them. If he does that all year he’ll be fine. I would like to see him take his man of the dribble more but again, Howard was lurking all night.
D.J. White: I continue to be really pleased with what White gives this team. He can and does hit the open jumper and he’s not afraid to throw what’s left of his weight around inside. Ultimately though, I think this team will be better served having White be a contributor off the bench mostly because it won’t lose a whole lot from first to second string.
Boris Diaw: After looking like he might join Oscar Robertson in the history books (I know, I know) Diaw looked tired tonight, and ineffective at best. Truthfully, battling Howard is a lot, too much really, to ask of Diaw. To his credit Diaw did all he could but the success he had from the outside against the Heat was nowhere to be found tonight, and the Cats could have used it.
Gerald Henderson: Definitely Henderson’s worst game of the season. He was the almost hero against the Heat, and I actually think he played Dwayne Wade rather well on that last possession. But he did not attempt a shot from beyond three tonight and worse he did not attempt a free throw. Henderson was one of many Bobcats who looked to be suffering from tired legs on jumpers. Could have been one of those nights, let’s hope so because Charlotte hasn’t even played a back-to-back yet. However, I’m not concerned about Henderson and chalk this one up to an off night.
D.J. Augustin: As solid as Diaw has been this year, I think Augustin has been the most consistent and effective Bobcat so far. It’s extremely encouraging to see Augustin’s toughness and success on the offensive end. He’s always going to be picked on on the defensive end because of his size but he’s shown to be a fighter. Further, it’s apparent to me that he and Walker will be playing together in crunch time.
DeSagna Diop: Diop did not play against Miami, but you knew he would see time tonight. It’s really difficult to say any Bobcat was effective inside when Howard had a 20-20 night, but Diop did his part. He has the weight to keep Howard pushed out as much as he can. Unfortunately, Howard is just a beast.
Matt Carroll: Carroll played 11 minutes, did not take a shot, missed a technical free throw and grabbed three rebounds. For Carroll to make an impact he really has to be able to spot up and make that three-point shot. The Bobcats need Reggie Williams in the lineup but that won’t be possible for a while. Charlotte needs Carroll to get on track from the outside.
Derrick Brown: Brown did what he does best in providing energy on both ends of the floor. Like a majority of Bobcats tonight not much stood out from Brown, and the three-point prowess of Orlando’s wings didn’t exactly help matters.
Kemba Walker: As mentioned, certainly Walker’s most ineffective game thus far from a scoring standpoint. Walker still has "it" and that can’t be denied. Walker leads that second group of players that enters between the third and fourth quarters and tries to change the pace of the game. I wouldn’t have minded seeing them take a little more of the minutes tonight just to see what they could have done. But, unfortunately they were just taking jumpers like everyone else for the most part. He did not have it going from outside tonight, but the shots weren’t short. He can still get to the rim (almost at will) and his on-the-ball pressure is (hopefully) contagious. Also, he’s shoes were insane tonight.
Byron Mullens: Mullens just works. The trade for Mullens should be recognized for what is, a MASSIVE win for Charlotte. Mullens is a former first round draft pick who was buried on the Oklahoma City bench. He’s got the range and accuracy to spread the floor. If he can provide a little more on the boards it wouldn’t shock me to see Mullens starting at some point his season.
Bismack Biyombo: Each game is a stepping stone for Biyombo. And what’s great is that you can see he’s enjoying every second of each NBA game, even on the bench. Some of the more entertaining minutes tonight were a couple of possessions where Biyombo matched up against Howard. For obvious reasons, Howard got the best of these matchups, but only by rule. Biyombo sent him to the line (really a win) and held is ground well. From a Bobcats standpoint, it has to be encouraging to see Biyombo go toe-to-toe with Howard and not back down. A long way to go for sure, but he didn’t jump at every fake tonight.