After a 99-90 loss to the Miami Heat last Monday, the Wizards head back home to Verizon Center to play the Bobcats, who are poised to make their second playoff appearance in franchise history. Game time is at 7:00 PM, and you can watch it on Comcast SportsNet.
This game has important playoff implications for both teams. For the Wizards they are only 2.5 games behind the third seed Toronto Raptors and 1.5 games behind the fourth seed Chicago Bulls. For the Bobcats, they still have a chance to get into the #6 seed as they are only three games behind the Brooklyn Nets, who have been surging since January. Charlotte has also been playing above .500 basketball since February and has one of the top defensive teams in the NBA.
For some more insight, we asked Chris Barnewall of SB Nation Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire for his thoughts regarding their team. We asked him five questions, and his answers are below:
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Bullets Forever: The Bobcats are often perceived to be much worse than they really are, and often unfairly so. This year, they are currently sixth in the NBA for defensive rating, and seventh in field goal percentage defense. Last year they were last in defensive rating, and 26th in field goal percentage defense. What do you believe have been the keys to help turn this team around, in particular on defense?
Chris Barnewall: Last year they ran a classic zone that let teams pick them apart from the perimeter. This was horrible in today's NBA where everybody has the ability to shoot 3's. They would follow that up by over adjusting and letting teams score in a multitude of ways on them. By February, spirits were broken and the effort was no longer there. This season is a much different story largely because of the effort, but also because it attributes much more to the skills of everybody on the court.
They have their bigs fall back to protect the interior, and keep their perimeter defenders high. This is extremely helpful for guys like Al Jefferson who aren't fast enough to rotate all over the place, he plants himself near the rim Roy Hibbert-style and doesn't leave. The perimeter defenders like Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are all fast or athletic enough to chase 3 point shooters off the 3 point line.
Playing high is an okay risk because if they get beat, the bigs are already defending the interior. While the team wants to contest every shot, they know that won't always be the case, they'll survive allowing an open mid range jump shot. The team is better than ever at rotations largely because everybody has bought into the defense and Steve Clifford's scheme. The effort that was never there is there now.
BF: If the season ended today, the Cats would be the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Do you think that the team could still get the sixth seed in order to avoid a first round series with the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers?
CB: I'm probably higher on this team than others, but I really do think they can beat anybody in the East not named Miami or Indiana. With the schedule they have left it's definitely possible for them to still catch the 6th seed and after what LeBron James did to them, probably preferred. The team is getting some help from the Brooklyn Nets because of Kevin Garnett's back problems, but a late season push by Charlotte is well within the realms of possibility.
BF: Should the Bobcats make the playoffs, which Eastern Conference teams would make the most ideal opponent for them in order to advance to the second round?
CB: Probably the Raptors. The Raptors post-Rudy Gay trade have been playing some great ball but they just matchup really bad with this Bobcats team. These matchup problems were very evident in their two regular season games. The Bobcats early in the season before things were clicking took the Raptors into OT and won. Then in a matinee matchup in January the Raptors got blitzed for most of the game They needed a late comeback coupled with the Bobcats atrocious bench completely blowing most of the lead to get it close, and they still lost.
I guess the Bulls wouldn't be a bad matchup either. The Bulls offense is bad enough to where they can allow most teams in the game just because they struggle so much with scoring. Also, two top 7 defenses fighting it out in a 1st round slugfest? NBA TV is salivating at the idea.
BF: Both the Bobcats and the Wizards rank very low in the NBA for attendance based on the percentage of seats sold per ESPN and that is despite the improvements that both teams have made in the standings this season. What do you think it will take for the team to improve with attendance besides winning?
CB: Both teams gotta get rid of that losing culture they've been plagued with for so long. Consistent trips to the playoffs, maybe even a little success, and proof that the team isn't going to turn around and return to the lottery next season. If you win, the people will come.
Kevin Seraphin is probable for today's game
Even with Drew Gooden and Al Harrington playing well as of late, Seraphin's size is a welcome addition nonetheless.
BF: Bobcats owner Michael Jordan has decided to change the team name to the Hornets and adopt the iconic purple and teal color scheme, right after the New Orleans Pelicans took on their current moniker this season. How do you all feel about this name change?
CB: The general consensus at Rufus on Fire is that we like the name change and that the team is going back to its roots. However there is a little bit of "The team will no longer being the losing Bobcats now that they're the Hornets" among a sect of fans. If they don't win, that's not going to go away. I polled the other writers here at RoF and Derek James had this to say:
Culturally, I think it carries a lot sentimental value, just ask Ben [Swanson, the RoF site manager] or David [Walker]. On the business side, it's a great way to draw, not exploit, from that and further reinvigorate a fan base. Really, though. It doesn't matter what they're called and will need to keep improving as a team whether they're Bobcats, Hornets or what-not. But at the same time, it's like a fresh start for the franchise with all of the futility that has become associated with the name Bobcats.
Speaking about David Walker, here's his take on the name change:
Yes, at the end of the day it was a no-brainer from all angles.
It certainly makes sense from a marketing perspective and even though there have been numerous reports on just how little the team actually makes on items not sold in the arena it just becomes almost impossible to argue against the move. There are likely many more Hornets fans than there are Bobcats fans, and that's probably always been the case. As insane as it sounds to actively choose to not support a team because of a name that has actually happened.
But regardless of that fact it will all soon be history. The Bobcats name was never great in all reality. However there is a certain brotherhood of fans that have supported the Bobcats from day one, through thick and thin...and through a lot more bad than good. So I think there will be a faction of fans that will always have a sense of nostalgia, oddly enough, for the Bobcats. Because believe it or not there are probably some Bobcat fans that were never fans of the Hornets.
Still, the organization couldn't ignore the support and the good faith just the name "Hornets" still received. And to the team's credit they approached it the correct way and at least gave the impression it was being looked at from all angles. Once New Orleans relinquished the name though, Jordan and company honestly didn't have much choice. Before this season they needed just about anything to create positive vibes in the city about the NBA team. Of course, winning will be the real key to sustained success, but this name was a real thing. Had the team just ignored the notion and stuck with the Bobcats, then reeled off an 82-0 regular season I don't THINK fans would have stayed away but the organization was smart to not take the chance.
Thanks again to Chris and Rufus on Fire for helping us out!