Posts Tagged ‘Mike Dunlap’

Jordan Calls Pera Challenge ‘Comical’





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan offered an appropriate response for a laughable challenge from Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, who wanted to challenge arguably the greatest player of all-time to a game of one-on-one for charity.

Jordan dismissed Pera’s Twitter antics by laughing at his fellow owner.

“I think that’s comical,” Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. “It didn’t make any sense. Why would I play one one-on-one? It’s a no-win situation for me no matter what.”

Pera issued his challenge Monday night, accompanied by a video (above) showing off his on-court prowess:

Jordan let it simmer for a while before brushing Pera aside. Pera’s intentions were most noble, he was trying to raise $1 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Trying to do it at the expense of a fellow owner who also happens to be a Hall of Fame player and considered by many the greatest player in NBA history, didn’t win him any points with Jordan’s legion of fans and admirers.

Jordan’s response was certainly appropriate. He didn’t take the bait from Pera, who at 35 is 15 years younger than Jordan. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted from his most pressing concerns, which revolve around reviving a Bobcats franchise that is breaking in yet another new coach, Steve Clifford, and several new faces, including veteran big man Al Jefferson and rookie 7-footer Cody Zeller.

Jordan told the Observer that he is pleased with the progress he’s seen on all fronts:

“I’m so happy about Steve. He’s a very professional guy. Professional in a way that the players can respond. He’s worked with some very good programs. I’ve watched him with the players. He has the right patience and rapport – he knows how to position himself with the players.

“That’s a big move for us because no matter how we spend on players, it starts with the coach. I’m not putting down (predecessor) Mike Dunlap. He had some of the same qualities.”

On Jefferson:

“Jefferson is a great addition. He’s been asked to be a leader on the basketball court. He’s never been asked to do that before. But he has some credence with our guys and I think they’ll respond.”

On Zeller:

“I love Zeller. To me, he’s a connector like (Josh) McRoberts, only more talented. He’ll make teammates better. He’s not flashy in what he does, but he’ll be a really solid player for us.”


If Pera wants a challenge he might be able to win, he’d should ask his Grizzlies to challenge Jordan’s Bobcats. But owner-on-owner, he’s a major underdog any way you slice it. (Here are a couple of reminders for you Mr. Pera!):




New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Blogtable: Jobs Coaches Want, Don’t

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 26: Coaching vacancies | Best sideline strategists | First-round impressions


Which available spot is most appealing to an out-of-work coach? Least?

Detroit's Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight (by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE)

Detroit’s Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight (by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner: Detroit. The core of young talent makes the Pistons an attractive jobGreg Monroe put up more double-doubles for Detroit than anyone since Grant Hill, Brandon Knight is so young he still has time to develop better point guard sensibilities and rookies Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond had solid inaugural seasons. Drummond might have been brought along too slowly, so there’s untapped potential right below the surface. The payroll is in good shape, too, with space this summer and guys like Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey entering the final years of their deals.

Fran Blinebury: Geez, it’s closing time at the bar and time to make your pick. Coaches win with the best players and so you’ve got to start there. The best players on the teams with openings were Kyrie Irving in Cleveland and Jrue Holiday in Philly. (I’m assuming we still are counting the Cavs in here in the 24 hours of Mike Brown‘s return.)  Since the Sixers are such a mess and have to figure out what they’re going to do with Andrew Bynum, I’m leaning toward the Cavs as most appealing.  Do you really have to ask about the worst? Charlotte is a black hole inside a smoking ruin wrapped up in a disaster. And Error Jordan is still calling the shots.

Jeff Caplan: Let’s answer the last part first: Charlotte. What a disaster. Hey, what coach would want that gig? There’s only been three coaches in the last three seasons. How’s that for security? Oh, and the collective talent … well, yeah. OK, so there’s a couple ways to look at the most appealing job. The first is that it got snapped up Tuesday with news that Mike Brown is headed back to Cleveland to coach Kyrie Irving and the Cavs’ kids. The other is that the most appealing job isn’t open, yet. Remember, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will make a decision on his return depending on his wife’s health. If he decides it’s best to walk away, then someone will walk into a very well-stocked cupboard. Similarly, Brooklyn will make a decision on interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. If he’s out, someone will get a team that’s maxed-out deep into the luxury tax, but comes with  All-Star level players at point guard and center.

Scott Howard-Cooper: Most appealing of the jobs open at the moment, since others may be coming, is Cleveland (at least until Brown walks through the door). Getting the certainty of Kyrie Irving along with the real promise of a few others is a running start to success for a new guy. Least appealing: Charlotte. A brief moment of hope with Larry Brown has become year after year of instability.

John Schuhmann: I’m going to assume that we’re including Cleveland (and not the three or four additional jobs that may open up in the next few weeks) among our options, because it was available just a few hours ago. And then I’m going to answer Cleveland, because the Cavs have the star player. Every team and every coach wants a star to build around. Mike Brown had it in his first go-round in Cleveland, and he has it now. And this is a team he can improve right away by just getting them to play decent defense, just like he did previously. I also think that Detroit, with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, is pretty appealing. Least appealing? Charlotte, Charlotte and Charlotte.

Sekou Smith: Of the available openings today, the Detroit job shows the most immediate growth potential. You have a veteran general manager in Joe Dumars who remains in place and a young core that includes Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight (he will survive the highlight reel tumult of this season) as building blocks. The Pistons finished this season playing decent basketball under ousted coach Lawrence Frank, so there were signs of life from this group even at the finish of a season that was lottery-bound months ago. That speaks to the mettle of the players. They have to do sound work in the Draft and in free agency, but this a rebuild that is past the foundation process. As for the least appealing, well, there is always Charlotte.

Lang WhitakerMost appealing has to be Cleveland — besides having Anderson Varejao under contract through 2015, you get Kyrie, and having an All-Star point guard already in the fold in the age of the point guard is a decided advantage. Also, seems like Dan Gilbert would be fun to work for, because you know he cares about winning. And I bet he sends out some fiery emails to his staff from time to time. For least appealing I’ll go with Charlotte. Consider that next season, in his third season in the NBA, Kemba Walker will be playing for his third coach. Doesn’t really seem like the organization is setting its guys up to be successful.

Framework Of Brown-Cavs’ Deal In Place

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The framework of a deal that would reunite the Cleveland Cavaliers and their former coach, Mike Brown, is in place, according to league sources, though the two sides do not yet have a contract in place and there are several remaining issues that have to be resolved.

The Cavaliers have moved quickly after firing Byron Scott, who replaced Brown in Cleveland in 2010, last week. Owner Dan Gilbert met with Brown on Sunday for dinner and discussions have quickly picked up steam.

The two sides are still working out the structure of the contract. Brown is looking for a five-year deal; the team is currently offering four years. A fifth-year club option might be a potential compromise. Brown would also have to work out the offset he has with the Lakers, who still owe him $10 million after firing him five games into his second season as coach there.

Brown posted a 272-138 record in five seasons in Cleveland, building a team around LeBron James that got to the NBA Finals in 2007 and won 50 games or more four times. He was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2009. Criticized early in his tenure there for an unimaginative offense, Brown changed much of his offense, giving assistant coach John Kuester broad authority, and the Cavaliers became one of the NBA’s better offenses in Brown’s last two seasons there.

But the Cavaliers failed to reach The Finals in Brown’s last three years, including the 2008-09 season, when Cleveland went 66-16 in the regular season. The following year, the Cavaliers lost in especially ignominious fashion to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Soon afterward, Gilbert decided not to pick up Brown’s option, in what many believed was a desperate attempt to keep James from leaving via free agency. James, of course, did leave, for Miami.

The Akron Beacon-Journal first reported that a deal between the sides were close.

Cleveland’s current management team pushed to go after Brown after Scott’s outster. The Cavaliers were impressed with Brown’s ability to create a defensive structure while evolving on offense, and winning 127 regular season games his last two seasons in Cleveland — a mark that is just as good as James has had in Miami — without the presence of Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.

The Cavs may also be moving quickly to keep Brown from the open market.

The Philadelphia 76ers are believed to have an interest in speaking with Brown about their coaching vacancy after Doug Collins announced he would not return as coach next season. The Detroit Pistons need a coach after firing Lawrence Frank last week, as do the Charlotte Bobcats, who fired Mike Dunlap on Tuesday after one season. There may also be openings soon in Brooklyn (P.J. Carlesimo), Milwaukee (Jim Boylan) and Sacramento (Keith Smart).

And speculation has run rampant throughout the league for months that the Atlanta Hawks — whose general manager, Danny Ferry, hired Brown in Cleveland in 2005 — would reach out to Brown at the end of their season. The Hawks’ current coach, Larry Drew, is in the final year of his contract, and the team opted to wait until after the season to decide what to do about his future status.

Bobcats Fire Coach Dunlap

From NBA.com staff reports

Coach Mike Dunlap has been fired by the Bobcats after one season on the job, as first reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

Dunlap, who led the Bobcats get to a 7-5 start before ending with a 21-61 record, had his share of flare-ups with veterans on the team (most notably Ben Gordon) during the season. The Bobcats have had just one winning season (2009-10) in their franchise history and have won 35 games or more only twice in their 10 years of existance.

Dunlap was the fifth coach in the Bobcats’ nine-year history. He came from the college ranks, where he had served as an assistant for St. John’s before taking the Charlotte gig.

The Bobcats released a statement upon Dunlap’s firing, with team president Rod Higgins saying the following:

Rich Cho and I conducted our season-ending review and met with Coach Dunlap to reflect on this season. As an organization, it was decided that we needed to make a change with the head coach position,” Higgins said. “We want to thank Mike for his contribution and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Morning Shootaround — April 2

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Several good ones to pick from last night, including the sizzling Jazz winning their fifth straight, the Rockets rolling along with James Harden on the bench and the Pacers doing just enough to escape the Clips in L.A. But we’ve gotta give it up for the Grizzlies this morning for their win over the (albeit injury-depleted) Spurs last night.  Memphis was at it’s Grit-and-Grind best and showed they can change up their style a bit, too. With San Antonio pressuring big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol all night (and neither one having a particularly wowing stat line), the Grizz turned to Mike Conley, who came through time after time and nailed the game-winning layup with :00.6 left.

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News of the morning

Why Heat weren’t punished for resting Wade, James | Smith becoming an all-around force | Shaq’s big day in L.A. | Corbin pulls prank on Jefferson | Dunlap glad Bobcats have tough schedule

Heat escape punishment for resting stars Heading into Sunday night’s Heat-Spurs matchup in San Antonio, one of the talking points was the team’s last meeting in December. That game is famously known for two reasons: first, for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green back to San Antonio to get rest rather than play them in back-to-back games and second, for the Spurs giving the fully stocked Heat a real game despite missing those standout players. The rematch on Sunday lacked LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, who all sat out due to injury but, unlike the Spurs’ quartet in December, were sitting on Miami’s bench during the Heat’s eventual win. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today explains why the Spurs were fined $250,000 for their antics in December and the Heat weren’t leveled any punishment for theirs:

There are multiple reasons why NBA Commissioner David Stern hammered the Spurs:

It was an early-season game, long before it becomes customary for playoff teams to give top players a game off.

The Spurs didn’t list a reason why their players (who were sent home) didn’t play other than “NWT” — Not With Team. The Heat gave reasons for James (strained right hamstring) and Wade (sprained right ankle).

In a statement addressing the Spurs’ fine in November, Stern said the Spurs violated league policy “against resting players in manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA. … The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”

It can be concluded that the Heat informed the Spurs, media and league office in a timely way, since Miami was not penalized.

At the April 2010 Board of Governors meeting just before the playoffs began, Stern said owners addressed the issue of teams sitting players in the final weeks of the season and concluded, “We also had what I would call a spirited discussion on the subject of players being rested down the stretch. And I think it’s fair to say that there was no conclusion reached, other than a number of teams thought that it should be at the sole discretion of the team, coach, general manager, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with that, unless that discretion is abused.”

It can also be concluded that Popovich abused that discretion in November and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not in late March.

Knicks’ Smith picks up his all-around gameJ.R. Smith is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the usual reason players get that award: he’s been sizzling hot in his last few games. In the last three weeks in particular, Smith has forsaken his love of the 3-pointer for more aggressive drives to the basket and is doing work on the glass as well. Tommy Beer of HoopsWorld.com has more on Smith, who is rolling and fueling the Knicks as they are in the midst of an eight-game win streak:

Smith has been consistently aggressive. He’s relentlessly attacking the basket rather than settling for perimeter jumpers.

Consider these statistics to help put Smith’s recent play in proper context: Smith played 35 games for the Knicks last season after signing with New York in mid-February and attempted a total of 55 free throws over the course of the 2011-12 season. In contrast, over the Knicks’ last 10 games, Smith has attempted 89 free throws. Yes, he has gotten to the line 34 more times in 25 fewer games.

Over this 10-game stretch, dating back to March 14, Smith is tied with Kevin Durant for the most free throw attempts in the entire league.

During this current 10-game span, Smith is shooting over 48 percent from the floor and has scored 250 points on just 168 field goal attempts. Those numbers compare favorably with even the league’s most efficient scorers.

Smith certainly hasn’t eliminated the three-pointer from his arsenal (he averaged 6.3 three-point attempts in March), he’s just been more selective. In addition, he has drastically reduced the amount of long two-pointers he’s taking. Smith is either taking threes or getting to basket, which typically results in a dunk, lay-up or trip to the charity stripe.

In March, Smith was one of just five NBA players who knocked down at least 20 three-pointers as well as 80 free throws. The other four members of that exclusive club: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Durant.

Coming into this season, Smith had never averaged more than 4.1 rebounds per contest, but is pulling down 5.2 rebounds a night in 2012-13. He’s also dishing out a career-best 2.8 assists per game. He is one of just six players this season averaging at least 17 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals (Russell Westbrook, James, Durant, Paul George and Rudy Gay are the other five).

O’Neal readies for his moment to be immortalizedTo a generation, Shaquille O’Neal may mostly be known as the new face on Inside the NBA, a pitchman and an adopter of practically all forms of social media. But before you pigeonhole Shaq as merely and entertainer, don’t forget his days as the most dominant force in the league as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Although O’Neal never played an entire healthy season in L.A., he nonetheless ran roughshod over opponents, particularly during the Lakers’ three-peat years from 2000-02. Tonight, his No. 34 jersey will be hung from the rafters at Staples Center, joining other Laker legends as we all take a moment to reflect on his career, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

If Shaquille O’Neal needed a nickname on his first day as a Laker, it could have been the Big Worrywart.

As dominant as he was, the best big man in the NBA recognized he represented just a fraction of the Lakers centers who had come before him.

George Mikan won six titles while becoming Mr. Basketball. Wilt Chamberlain won two titles (one as a Laker) and scored 100 points in a game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six titles (five as a Laker) and was the league’s all-time leading scorer.

What had O’Neal done, besides help the Orlando Magic go poof in a four-game sweep during the 1995 Finals?

“It was something I was terrified of,” O’Neal said of the Lakers’ legacy of centers. “We made it to the Finals that one year. That was good, but it wasn’t as good as them yet. Because in my mind I’m like, ‘Wilt’s got two [titles], Kareem’s got six and I have none.'”

O’Neal’s insecurities were only reinforced when Jerry West, then the Lakers’ executive vice president, placed his hands on the center’s broad shoulders shortly after he joined the team in July 1996 and told him to look up at the jerseys hanging from the rafters inside the Forum.

“He said, ‘Son, if you do everything correctly and do everything in a professional manner,'” O’Neal said, recalling their conversation, “‘you may be up there one day.'”

O’Neal was famous for bestowing nicknames upon himself: Shaq-Fu, Big Aristotle and MDE, for Most Dominant Ever.

He never called himself the best Lakers center ever, and he isn’t about to now.

“I’m just good enough to be in the conversation,” said O’Neal, 41, who was given the night off from the TNT broadcast of the Lakers-Mavericks game to enjoy his jersey retirement ceremony.

O’Neal overpowered defenders, using his massive 7-1, 340-pound body as leverage before spinning away for layups or dunks. He teamed with Kobe Bryant to help the Lakers win three straight titles from 2000-02. “My style was dominating and intimidating people, making them quit, making them flop,” O’Neal said.

He does have a few regrets about a career in which injuries limited him to an average of 63 games a season.

“I’m kind of upset with myself for missing 250 games,” said O’Neal, who ranks sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 28,596 points. “If I had played those games and gotten an extra 5,000 points, I would have passed Wilt Chamberlain and then I would have the right to say I’m the most dominant big man ever to play.”

Corbin pranks red-hot Jefferson — The Jazz are the hottest team in the West, having won five straight games. Those victories have come at an opportune time, considering Utah is in a scrap with Dallas and the L.A. Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West (although Utah does hold the tie-breakers over both teams). Key in that surge of late has been center Al Jefferson, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Week and has dominated inside while the Jazz are slowly regaining the rhythm that made them a solid-if-not-certain playoff team earlier in the season. Jody Genessy of the Deseret News has more on Jefferson, his award and a little joke played on him by his coach, Tyrone Corbin:

Al Jefferson got an unexpected phone call from Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin on Monday afternoon.

At first, Big Al thought he might be in trouble.

Jefferson then wondered if he was a prank victim.

“He called me out of the blue, and I was thinking I did something wrong,” said Jefferson, who then quickly was reminded it was April Fools’ Day. “(Coach) was like, ‘Yeah, I’m calling to trade you. …

“But, oh yeah, that’s right,” Corbin added, “we can’t trade.”

The real reason for the call?

The coach was informing Jefferson he’d been named the NBA’s Western Conference player of the week.

“I think it’s a tremendous honor for where we are,” Corbin said. “He’s a huge part of the success that we’re having.”

Big Al averaged 19.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks during the pivotal week, which helped the Jazz work their way back into the eighth and final playoff spot out West.

“It really did (surprise me). It caught me off guard so bad,” Jefferson said. “I’m so focused trying to just get into the playoffs. I ain’t really thought about our record this week and what I averaged this week.”

Jefferson, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Utah’s 112-102 win over Portland on Monday, has been named a player of the week five times in his nine-year career, including twice with the Jazz (the first time being April 23, 2012).

That came as a surprise to him. He thought this was his fourth time.

“For real?” he said when informed he’s earned the honor twice in Utah, twice in Minnesota and once with Boston. “It’s a great feeling, but there’s bigger fish to fry. The main goal is to win a championship.”

Dunlap glad Bobcats face tough final scheduleCharlotte is in a game-by-game battle with Orlando for the worst record in the Eastern Conference and is set up for likely a third straight season of 25 wins or less. Of the Bobcats’ final eight games, five are against playoff teams. That would seem to be exactly what a young, struggling team like Charlotte wouldn’t want to face, but coach Mike Dunlap tells Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the opposite is true:

Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said he’s glad his team is playing teams in contention for the playoffs.

“The great thing about playing the Bucks tonight is they have the playoff fever,” Dunlap said. “Every possession presents itself with an intensity that is good for our young guys to understand.”

Charlotte scored 60 points in the first half but only 42 in the second half as the Bucks won their 10th consecutive home game against the Bobcats.

The Bucks and Bobcats met twice early in the season, with Charlotte prevailing at home, 102-98, on Nov. 19 and the Bucks winning at home, 108-93, on Dec. 7.

Charlotte started 7-5, matching its total of victories last season. But it has won just 10 more times since that promising start.

“Youth, is one,” Dunlap said. “And two is you have them in a concentrated period of the training camp and you come right into the season. There’s a bit of fizz there in terms of clarity.

“We’ve had a story line that’s quiet. But we’ve run into major injuries. We’re on the margin, so when a Gerald Henderson is out for the better part of two months, that impacts us. You can see what he’s doing. Then (Ramon) Sessions goes out. We can’t afford to lose a Sessions. That’s like losing a (Mario) Chalmers or something along those lines.”

ICYMI of the night: Game by game, Ricky Rubio is regaining the form that made him a standout last season and, game by game, Derrick Williams is benefiting from Rubio’s play:

Bobcats Start 2013 With A New Streak

 

CHICAGO – As time dwindled, the Charlotte Bobcats’ lead over the Chicago Bulls looked proportionately bigger and bigger. During a timeout with 2:43 left Monday afternoon at United Center, it was Charlotte 82, Chicago 73 and you had to think that the Bobcats could almost smell it.

The question was, did they remember what it was?

Coach Mike Dunlap and his team could be forgiven if they didn’t, seeing as how their previous taste of it – winning – had come more than six weeks earlier. That was back on Thanksgiving weekend, a double-OT victory at Washington on Nov. 24, and here the Bobcats were on the brink of a new year, trying to walk out of 2012 with their heads up. Rather than, y’know, skidding out, an 18-game winless streak stretched to 19 and counting.

They made it, closing out the Bulls 91-81 and pinching off another run of futility. The Bobcats suffered through losing streaks of 16, 23 and 18 games in calendar year just completed, yet by winning Monday they assured themselves of four blissful days of 2013 with some, yikes, momentum.

“What streak do you mean, one win in a row?” said Dunlap, for whom deadpan comes naturally.

What a way to start a season and an NBA head coaching career: Charlotte made some quickie, quirky league history by matching its victory total from the previous season faster than any other team. Which is to say, the Bobcats gained their seventh victory in their 12th game, an accomplishment made possible by the 2011-12 edition’s puny 7-59 mark.

That high mark came in the Wizards game but was followed 48 hours later in Oklahoma City by the franchise’s most lopsided defeat, a 114-69 failure against the Thunder. From there, things spun out of control, from a 30-point shredding by San Antonio and a one-point heartbreak at the Lakers to their blown lead of 21 points at home against New Orleans Saturday.

From the outside, they were a team whose agenda ranked “player development” higher than “winning tonight” among its priorities. On the inside, though, the Bobcats were tested – and apparently passed all those tests – in their chemistry, unity and overall absence of finger-pointing.

“We’re a desperate team right now,” Charlotte guard Gerald Henderson said. “A losing streak is tough on you. We had tactical stuff we wanted to take care of, but we just wanted to fight more than anything.”

Definitely the Bobcats were the more aggressive team. They limited Chicago to 35.1 percent shooting and beat the Bulls on the boards 52-49, holding Joakim Noah to just four. They also survived 18 turnovers worth 21 points and 17 missed free throws that would have haunted them had the outcome gone differently.

“Yeah, but we won,” guard Kemba Walker said. “Everybody in the whole world knew how much we needed this win.”

Oh, so they did remember what that was.

“When you go through an entire month of not winning,” Dunlap said, “it really eats at you. Especially for the young guys – they need some confidence. … We’re happy to come in here [and win against] the Bulls. It’s a double-bonus because I have that kind of respect for this team and this coach [Tom Thibodeau].”

Double-bonus for Charlotte, double-whammy for Chicago. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, as NBA fan Paul Simon wrote, and the streak-buster for the Bobcats felt like a back-breaker to the Bulls.

This is a proud team in a bad way at the moment, desperate for Derrick Rose to return. Chicago’s attack has gone in the dumpster, averaging 85 points in its past four games. The Bulls never led at any point Monday and when they finally pulled even at 65-65 through three quarters, the Bobcats scraped them off with a 10-0 start to the fourth. Thibodeau’s guys shot 6-of-26 in the period, compounding lousy offense with shaky defense; Charlotte shot 47.1 percent, getting as many field goals as the Bulls (33) in 24 fewer shot attempts.

It was clear afterward that the Bulls felt worse having dropped three of their last four – including a 17-point mess at Atlanta and a Christmas night stinker at home to Houston – than the Bobcats did at any point in their streak. They had just lost by 10 to a team that got outscored by 13.3 ppg across its 18 defeats.

“We’ve got to get ourselves out of this funk,” forward Taj Gibson said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us.”

The conclusion in Chicago was that the Bulls must have taken the Bobcats lightly, trailing all those losses and even playing this one without rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (poked in eye Saturday).

“I don’t know if those guys took us lightly,” Walker said, bristling a bit. “We executed our game plan. We played well. I thought we could have beat anybody today.”

From losers of 18 straight to bravado befitting a brand new undefeated year.

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

Nail-Biting Wins Biggest Proof Of Bobcats’ Improvement

 

The tangible affirmation in Charlotte could come as soon as this weekend. That’s when the 6-4 Bobcats play the Hawks on Friday and the Wizards on Saturday, giving Charlotte the chance to tie or surpass last season’s win total well before the first full month of this season is even complete.

The best sign of running the learning curve like a straightaway, though, there found in the final minutes. In the Bobcats’ five games decided by four points or less, they sport five wins.

In what should have been the ultimate time of transition – young players, experienced players new to the team, new coach – Charlotte is unfazed in the clutch. That’s the real encouraging note, more than being on the verge of doing in November what took several months a season ago.

“We are young,” coach Mike Dunlap said after the latest example of playing beyond their years, the 98-97 victory over the Raptors on Wednesday. “There’s exuberance and an excitement about the game of basketball. We’re learning as we play each game. The winning is giving us a lot of plusses. A lot of intangibles. We won ugly tonight and it doesn’t really matter. The better part will come, but we’re finding a way.”

On a regular basis is the point.

  • Nov. 2: Bobcats 90, Pacers 89.
  • Nov. 10: Bobcats 101, Mavericks 97.
  • Nov. 14, Bobcats 89, Timberwolves 87.
  • Nov. 19: Bobcats 102, Bucks 98.
  • Nov. 21: Bobcats 98, Raptors 97.

Winning three games in four tries, offset only by a seven-point loss to the scorching Grizzlies, is a very good sign for building confidence in ways beyond the standings. The Bobcats are young, but unfazed. They are finding a way.

Bobcats and Timberwolves … Rising?




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Don’t rub your eyes. It’s real. As of this morning, the Charlotte Bobcats and Minnesota Timberwolves are both doing the unthinkable for two teams that have served as league-wide punching bags in recent seasons.

All the fun we’ve had at the expense of Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and Timberwolves boss David Kahn has been silenced by the winning ways, so far, of their respective teams. They are both 5-4 and battling their way to respectability while shaking off whatever adversity comes their way.

For all of the early-season shockers around the league, both good and bad, these two winning outfits have to rank at or near the top of the list of biggest surprises.

One of the better games of this young season was the 89-87 thriller they played against each other last week, the one where Kemba Walker‘s buzzer-beater gave the Bobcats their third straight win.

Last night’s comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks was another quality notch for Bobcats belt this season. They’re digging out of that ugly hole from last season in the only way possible: with their heads down, their defensive style looking legitimate and contributions from up and down the roster.

It’s more than most of us expected from a team with a new coach (Mike Dunlap), a new star (rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and plenty of other new faces added to the mix and continue to defy the odds. Jordan probably didn’t see this coming, not this soon. They didn’t win their fifth game during last year’s lockout-shortened season until March 12, just so we’re clear about how much progress has been made.

The Timberwolves are thriving on the other side of the conference divide without the services of their biggest stars. All-Star power forward Kevin Love (broken hand) and Ricky Rubio (recovering from torn ACL in left knee) have yet to suit up this season. Brandon Roy‘s comeback has been derailed by yet another knee procedure (he’s expected to miss at least a month) and Chase Budinger is out three months after knee surgery).

But Rick Adelman, as he often does, has found a way to cobble together enough healthy bodies to make the Timberwolves a factor every night. Andre Kirilenko‘s return to the NBA has been a huge boost. He leads the team in rebounds (8.3) and blocks (2.2). Fellow Russian Alexey Shved has also made an impression during his first few weeks of NBA action, showing signs that he’ll be a more than competent backup to Rubio, who, according to Jon Krawcynski of the Associated Press, has already started light practice workouts.

“Just having them five-on-(none) gives you a sense that when you get them back we’ll be pretty good,” Adelman said of having both Love and Rubio on the practice court. “We can’t wait for them. We have to go out there and play. But it gives us a sense.”

Love is expected back at the start of December and Rubio potentially a couple of weeks later, which couldn’t come at a better time. After winning five of their first seven games, the Timberwolves have dropped two straight.

Getting by with a shorthanded roster can last for only so long. Nikola Pekovic, not exactly a household name, leads the team in scoring (15.3), with Kirilenko (14.1), Luke Ridnour (11.4), Shved (10.4) and Derrick Williams (10.4) the only other healthy players scoring in that range.

If they can manage for another few weeks or so, at least until the first wave of reinforcements arrive, both the Bobcats and Timberwolves might remain among the teams boasting .500 or better records around Christmas, too.