The Big Picture: As rational people, we have to accept the reality that the Bobcats have played poorly this year. Through seven games, the Cats are playing the league's slowest pace, and produced the 25th best offense and 19th best defense. From a purely emotional standpoint, I recoil from those results, but I think we can also start determining how much optimism to reserve.
By now, I expect the Cats to play grind-it-out ball. In a certain light, this is Larry Brown's single craziest idea, to play slowdown ball with this particular group of players. Not only are a plurality of guys on the team especially long, leaping, runaway locomotive dunkers (Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown), but the ones who aren't are either three point specialists who'd be just fine peeling off to the wings on the break (D.J. Augustin, Matt Carroll), or have demonstrated in the past that they take to a fast-paced offense well despite not appearing to have physical tools that lend themselves to it (Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw). We don't really know how well Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop would fare in an up-tempo system, but their minutes would be severely slashed, anyway. About the only guy who doesn't really fit in this hypothetical scheme is Shaun Livingston, who has fairly ideal skills for a grind-it-out on offense, awesome-defense point guard.
The primary argument for playing slowly is compelling, too, and it's a math argument. Basically, the fewer possessions there are in a game, the closer the score is likely to be, and thus a poor team playing slowly makes it easier to upset better teams. If the Cats are bottom-half in the NBA, then it's totally understandable to approach games that way. The magic trick is to weigh that reality with the reality that the actual players on the squad are suited for a much faster pace, and come up with something that makes the best use of the players' talents. I'm not sure we're seeing our guys playing a system that makes the most of what they bring to the table.
As for the offense and defense ratings, we knew going into this that the Cats' offense would be rough, at best, and that's exactly what we've seen. I'm sure there are people who are actually surprised they've done as well as they have, primarily because Augustin is playing more like he did his rookie year than last year. But the poor defense isn't explained away as easily. Perhaps we're missing Tyson Chandler more than anyone would have suspected. Perhaps Raymond Felton was exceptional at cutting off the top of the offense. I don't know. But what's clear at this point is the Cats can't continue doing what they've been doing, with the same players.
Musical Interlude: Gorillaz -- "DARE"
Keys to Victory: The Raptors have been the Bizarro Bobcats for the past year and change, with similar results. This year is no different. Just as the Cats' offense has ticked up a bit this year, the Raps' awful defense has been a little better than expected. However, on the flip side, just as the Cats' defense has declined precipitously, the Raps' highly-rated offense has also declined.
After Andrea Bargnani, the Raps spread the scoring around among Jarrett Jack, Linas Kleiza, and DeMar DeRozan. That is to say: even though guys like Kleiza are capable of going off, the key to stopping them is to stick it to Bargnani and let everything else take care of itself. Diaw will likely draw Bargnani duty most of the game, though I'd prefer someone with better lateral quickness, who can get right up in his grill and force him to do something else other than spot up and shoot, someone like Tyrus.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Bargnani put up a 13/4 as a 17 year old in a professional Italian league.