Monday, April 14, 2014

Most likely Bobcat playoff scenario and 3 notes on Atlanta win

The Bobcats (42-39) clinched a winning record with a 95-93 road victory over Atlanta, and did it with a six-foot runner from Chris Douglas-Roberts as the clock ticked to zero. 3 notes and the most likely playoff scenario:

1. Very interesting strategy from coach Steve Clifford in the fourth quarter. Unlike the Hawks, who are the No.8 playoff seed and rested three starters, the Bobcats had an obvious stake in this game. But Clifford went almost entirely with his second unit in the fourth quarter -- that group got hot and stayed hot.

The only exception was Clifford put his best offensive player, Al Jefferson, back in for Bismack Biyombo midway through the quarter. But Luke Ridnour (10 fourth-quarter points) ran the point instead of Kemba Walker and Gary Neal, Anthony Tolliver and CDR completed the normal five. Josh McRoberts came in for the final 2.6 seconds, but just to throw the winning inbounds pass. It was unusual -- and effective, as the Bobcats outscored Atlanta 30-13 in the fourth.

2. Kemba Walker played about half the game and looked like he was moving OK despite the sore right groin that kept him out of the past two games. But his shot was way off. Walker was 1-for-9 from the floor. Gerald Henderson didn't have the same injury excuse, but he was also 1-for-9. Walker did have seven assists.

3. The Bobcats may eventually look back on last Friday with wistfulness. They remain a game back of Washington in the race for the No.6 seed with one game to play. Had they beaten the woeful Boston Celtics (25-56) in Boston, Charlotte would have the lead for the No.6 spot. As it is now, the Bobcats look likely to play Miami in the playoffs -- the Heat are now officially the No.2 seed.

For Charlotte to play someone else, the Bobcats would have to beat Chicago (48-33) at home Wednesday night, and Washington (43-38) would have to lose to Boston. In that scenario, the Bobcats would play Toronto, a team they are 3-0 against this season.

Charlotte's game Wednesday starts at 7 p.m. (that time was originally 8 p.m. but has been switched). Washington's starts at 8. So if the Bobcats win Wednesday -- and they are 0-3 against the Bulls this season -- they still won't know their playoff seed for another hour.

Most likely playoff scenario? Either Washington wins, or Charlotte loses, or both -- and the Bobcats open their second-ever playoff series on the road this weekend at the two-time defending champions, the Miami Heat. And that ain't all bad, either.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

3 things that impressed me in huge Bobcat win over Wizards

The Bobcats edged past Washington for the inside track to the No.6 playoff seed Wednesday night, winning 94-88 in overtime on the road. It was a huge win for Charlotte in several ways, but most notably gave the Bobcats (40-38) the season-ending tiebreaker if it comes to that over Washington (40-38).

Three things that were very impressive to me:

1) The Bobcats' defense, especially in overtime. It was remarkable. The Wizards helped some by going ice-cold, but every shot was contested. Washington scored one -- yes, one -- point in the OT. And Kemba Walker's great "contest" as regulation ended meant John Wall couldn't even get a shot up in 3.2 seconds (and the one he did shoot missed anyway).

2) Gary Neal's offense. On a night when Walker went 6-for-21, Neal provided exactly what the Bobcats had to have, with 16 points. When he was in the game, the Bobcats were plus-13. That's bigtime.

3) Al Jefferson. Washington's Marcin Gortat (27 points, 14 rebounds) gave Jefferson all sorts of fits most of the night. But in overtime, Jefferson was the bigger man, and he ended up with 20 and 18 himself. As usual, Charlotte never would have won this one without "Big Al."

Charlotte's last four regular-season games are at Boston Friday, home vs. Philly Saturday, at Atlanta Monday and home vs. Chicago Wednesday. The last two are the most difficult. But if the Bobcats go 3-1 in those 4, I bet they will avoid Miami or Indiana in the first round and end up with Toronto or Chicago instead. The playoffs start April 19th or 20th, on the road, for Charlotte.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Another award for Big Al and other Bobcat notes

The honors continue to pile up for Al Jefferson. The Bobcats center was named the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week for games played from March 31 to April 6th. It was the second time in four weeks Jefferson has won the award. He also was the conference's player of the month for March.

Jefferson averaged 24.3 points and 13 rebounds last week as the Bobcats went 4-0 and clinched the second playoff berth in franchise history. He ranked second in the Eastern Conference in rebounding for the week and fourth in scoring.

-- Josh McRoberts has a nagging ankle injury but hopes to return for Wednesday night's game at Washington, which will go a long way toward determining whether Charlotte is the No.6 or No.7 playoff seed. McRoberts practiced Monday but had to skip the contact work. "He said he feels good," Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. "So hopefully if he can get through practice [Tuesday], he'll be able to play."

-- It was funny listening to the Bobcats' Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joust for the cameras after practice Monday. Both played for national champions recently and each had an opinion about Monday night's title game pitting their colleges. Walker predicted Connecticut to win by 20. MKG predicted Kentucky to win by "8 to 10."

-- I have written a column for Tuesday's paper and online on the Bobcats' reserve sharpshooter Anthony Tolliver. This didn't make it into the column, but Tolliver has guarded most of the small and power forwards in the NBA in his travels. I asked him who the toughest player to guard in the NBA was. He said he goes back and forth in his mind between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but that right now he would have to go with KD.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Really, James Michael? And other basketball notes

4 basketball notes:

1. James Michael McAdoo. Really, James Michael? You go pro after your junior season? You are projected as a mid- to late second-round pick, which in the NBA means you won't have a guaranteed contract. Your UNC team will be a national title threat next year. You would have gone higher in the NBA draft after both your freshman and sophomore years. This makes no sense from a monetary standpoint. On the other hand, it is McAdoo's life to live, and I think his early departure will allow the great incoming class of freshmen to develop more quickly.

2. Big Al's Paint store. Nice website concept by the Bobcats, who are trying to get Al Jefferson some all-NBA consideration. The first Bobcat to ever be named the Eastern Conference's player of the month certainly deserves some, but to get one of the three all-NBA slots he would have to replace Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah or Dwight Howard. That's an uphill battle, but the website will at least garner some attention, and it's fun. At the least, you should read the "customer reviews."

3. Tyler Lewis. UNC Charlotte seems like a great fit to me for Lewis, who is from Statesville and whose older brother Colby played for the 49ers and is now a graduate assistant there. Lewis, who is transferring from N.C. State, would have to sit out next season. But I would think he would start immediately after that. He is not a scorer, but he makes other players around him better (T.J. Warren will tell you that) and he never turns the ball over.

4. I really like the hire of Danny Manning at Wake Forest. What a built-in recruiting advantage Manning will have. It won't be long before the Deacons are ACC-relevant again.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bobcats face huge game vs Washington and other sports notes

In terms of playoff seeding, the Bobcats face a huge home game Monday night against Washington.

Simply put, if the Bobcats do not win this one, they will be out of the running in my opinion for the No.6 seed and the likely matchup with Toronto in the playoffs' first round that comes with it. As our Rick Bonnell noted in this excellent Sunday package about the Bobcats' possible first-round playoff opponents, Charlotte is 3-0 against Toronto this season and 1-9 against the other three teams it might face (Indiana, Miami and Chicago).

Here is how the Eastern Conference standings look at the relevant spots as of Monday morning:

6. Washington (38-35)

7. Charlotte (35-38)

8. Atlanta (31-41)

Charlotte plays Washington twice in the season's final 16 days, starting tonight. It would have to beat the Wizards twice to make up that three-game gap and also win the head-to-head tiebreaker. Anything less and you can basically pencil Washington in to slot No.6 and the Bobcats at No.7, where they will likely face Miami (the Heat is 4-0 against Charlotte this season).

As for a couple of other links you may find interesting:

-- Our Joseph Person had a nice series of stories Sunday on the Panthers' strengths, weaknesses and needs in Sunday's newspaper. Click here to see it.

-- On Sunday, I wrote about 20 of my most memorable days after 20 years on the job at The Observer. The time a few fans put up banners in the Panthers' stadium advocating me getting fired in 1997 (picture above)? Yeah, that made the list.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2 Panther questions and answers

I get these two questions more than any others these days, so here is my take on two pressing Panther issues.

1) What should the Panthers do with their No.28 overall draft choice?

A. It has to be an offensive tackle or a wide receiver. The No.2 defense in the NFL is far closer to set than the inconsistent Panther offense, which only scored 10 points in the Panthers' playoff game and has taken two big blows in the past two months -- one self-inflicted (the mistaken release of Steve Smith) and one retirement (Jordan Gross).

The Panthers will have to stay flexible, given they are picking so low in the first round. Although choosing a wide receiver is the sexier selection, if all things were equal (and they rarely are) I would go for an offensive tackle in the first round and a receiver in the second.

Although the Panthers seem determined to give Byron Bell the first shot at left tackle, I am not sure he is the answer there. And even if he is, who is going to play right tackle? The Panthers absolutely must find at least one offensive line starter in this draft.

2) What do you think of Dave Gettleman?

A. He can be cold-blooded in his decisions (see Smith, Steve). He also can be exactly what the Panthers need in terms of a man who doesn't let his hands get tied due to loyalty or "I drafted this guy so I'm never going to cut him" pride.

Gettleman had a great rookie year as Panther GM in 2013. I disagreed with the Smith decision, but I have found it hard to disagree with most anything else he has done. He's not going to let Cam Newton get away, that's for sure, and his general football principles are very sound. Criticize him for the decision on No.89 all you want -- and note that Ron Rivera said Wednesday that Gettleman had "taken the hit" for the Panthers in public, implying a lot of other people agreed with this decision inside that building. But also don't forget how much good Gettleman has done in less than 15 months.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do not do it, Jerricho

UPDATE: I already have more respect for Jerricho Cotchery, who said on his conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon of the No.89: "I definitely wouldn't even think about touching that number." This news makes the blog below -- posted about 5 hours before Cotchery said that -- somewhat obsolete, but feel free to continue if you like..... Scott

If I am Jerricho Cotchery, there is no way I wear No.89 with the Carolina Panthers.

That's the number Cotchery wore last year in Pittsburgh, when he caught 10 touchdown passes and showed enough that the Panthers have signed him for 2014 after their four top wideouts of 2013 all walked out the door.

But Cotchery, a former N.C. State star, has to be smart enough to know that wearing No.89 in Charlotte would be a bad idea. He will already be incessantly compared to Steve Smith, the Panthers' best player of all time and another 30-something receiver who the Panthers controversially released last week (Smith had more receiving yards in 2013 than Cotchery, for what that's worth, but fewer TDs).

To wear No.89 in Charlotte puts Cotchery (who has worn the number in 9 of 10 seasons, as Joe Person points out) in a no-win situation -- he will just be compared to Smith all the more, and it's very difficult to win in that game. All those fans with No.89 jerseys in their closets won't like it. It will get Cotchery off on the wrong foot.

Far better, in fact, for the Panthers' very smart equipment man, Jackie Miles, to "unofficially" retire No.89 for now -- much like he seemed to for years with the No.51 and Sam Mills (the jersey was eventually retired, but Miles had pretty much mothballed it already, it seemed to me). No one should wear No.89 in the 2014 training camp. Too many memories. Too fresh. The debate as to whether the number should be permanently retired can be saved for another day -- I would come down in favor of that.

Let Cotchery pick his own number, one that doesn't have the weight of history behind it (unless it is N.C. State history -- in that case, as Joe Person points out, he should take No.82). And if he tries to insist on wearing No.89 anyway, someone over at Bank of America Stadium needs to save him from that mistake.