VIDEO: Heat vs. Bobcats, Jan. 18, 2014
This time — after Al Jefferson, after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, after Jeffery Taylor — it’s Kemba Walker. This time, it’s a sprained left ankle and the Charlotte Bobcats saying Walker will miss 10 to 14 days.
This time, it’s different.
The Bobcats have faced a series of health issues this season and remained in playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, but a couple weeks without their starting point guard may become the biggest test yet. The timetable for Walker to be back is good news. Sitting a full 14 days and seven games is not bad, considering how awful the injury looked, with Walker’s ankle and left leg practically at a 90-degree angle as he stepped on the foot of Miami’s Chris Bosh on Saturday. Walker had barely hit the court before Jefferson, watching from behind while trailing the play, put both hands on his head in concern of what appeared to be a serious injury.
Otherwise, the injury is a huge concern. Walker not only leads the Bobcats in scoring (18.7), assists (5.0) and minutes (35.7), but he had been playing particularly well lately, at 21 points per game and 45.6 percent shooting in the last five outings (he’s now at 42.1 percent for the season). While never known as a distributor, Walker had at least eight assists in four of the last seven games, including in 22 minutes against the Heat. In those seven games, he had only 13 turnovers.
Walker, Jefferson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, is the “heart and soul” of the team. The Bobcats, he said, lost their “fight” when Walker went out in the third quarter against the Heat. A 64-57 lead turned into a 104-96 overtime escape for Miami.
Playing without Walker changes everything. Opponents will be able to double Jefferson in the post more aggressively without Walker’s outside shooting, Bonnell points out, and the Bobcats will have to do without the Jefferson-Walker pick-and-roll — just as it had become a late-game option, developed over time after Jefferson missed most of November with a bruised right ankle.
Jefferson, the starting center, missed his first nine games as a Bobcat after signing as a free agent with the bad ankle. In Jefferson’s seventh game back, small forward Kidd-Gilchrist fractured his left hand, costing him 19 games. In that time, Taylor, MKG’s backup, ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon, ending his season. Yet despite the health woes, the transition to new coach Steve Clifford, an unreliable offense and concerns about a declining intensity on defense, Charlotte, even at 17-25, was just a game behind the Nets for the final playoff spot.
The Bobcats had been better after a recent five-game losing streak, with Clifford telling the Observer, “I feel a lot better about our team than a week ago. We showed the fight we were showing early in the year. … We’re playing hard and smart.” They had gone 3-4, and then came the double loss — Walker to the ankle injury and the game to the Heat — Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Now Charlotte faces home games against the Raptors and Clippers, at the Knicks, back home against the Bulls and then a Western swing that begins with stops against the Nuggets, Lakers and Suns with Walker out. Several opponents are dealing with point-guard injuries, too, but the Bobcats are beginning the stretch by playing four games in six days, further taxing a bench that will be thinned out with Ramon Sessions or Jannero Pargo moving into the lineup.
Sessions is the obvious choice for the promotion to the lineup Monday against the Raptors, but Clifford could choose the seldom-used Pargo to start, keeping the second unit intact while hoping the experienced starters step up around Pargo. The decision arrives with the Bobcats a game behind the Pistons and Nets, battling for the last playoff spot.