Gametime: 7:00 p.m. EST
Tonight the Bobcats face the Indiana Pacers, the last stop on this rough stretch of games meant to crush their spirits. These games, painfully grouped consecutively by some nefarious schedule-maker assuredly with an oily, slick, thin mustache and hatred for bobcats hailing from the southern region of North Carolina, have not gone well for the Charlotte Bobcats. The closest match was against the San Antonio Spurs in a 10-point loss and each got worse from there, culminating in a masterful though embarrassing (for us) performance from LeBron James.
But, c'est la vie, no? Take your lumps and move on. In an 82-game schedule, it's best not to dwell on last game's shame. Learn from where you went wrong, adjust for the future and get ready for tomorrow's game.
So tonight they face the team leading the Eastern Conference. Though they don't have the stunning individual scoring threats of a Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook or LeBron James, Indiana's backcourt is nothing to ignore. Paul George is dangerous on defense or offense. With a quick first step, a powerful leap and a dependable jump shot, George should be a player to keep an eye on tonight. Lance Stephenson has come on strong in his fourth season, and should be a candidate to see a nice payday in the offseason as a free agent with a well-rounded game. Stephenson's a solid jump shooter, but perhaps the most impressive part of his game is how well he gets to the rim, where he hits about 70 percent of his attempts.
And of course, their frontcourt isn't anything to sneeze at, either. Roy Hibbert is the defensive foundation for the Pacers, who are the top defensive team in the league, and David West is a great offensive complement to Hibbert with a nice jump shot and post game. Hibbert's not a great scorer, but he has a nice jump hook and can make you pay if you're not physical enough with him to deny him easy looks or good positioning down low.
But the little secret that some haven't noticed is that Indiana's offense has been seriously lagging behind their league-leading defense lately. As Mike Prada noted today, the Pacers' offense ranks 25th in efficiency since the beginning of 2014.
Their 13-7 record over their last 20 games can be a little deceptive. Their lone impressive win was an overtime victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Two others came against prospective playoff teams - the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks (who have won one of their last 12 games). The rest were over the dregs of the East and West. To be fair, beating those teams consistently shows they still haven't lost too much. But still, it's not hard to see they're not rolling over teams like they once were and even middle-of-the-road teams in the West are giving them difficulty.
The Bobcats have a chance to steal a game against the team atop the Eastern Conference's standings, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the Pacers' stout defense shows up big and puts the clamps down on Charlotte. Kemba Walker's been struggling lately, limiting the Bobcats' offense severely. Al Jefferson's going to have to be on top of his game to make Hibbert work, too. Big Al's midrange jump shot can help open up the lane for off-ball movement.
Indiana could possibly open up a big lead if their defense forces the Bobcats out of healthy ball movement inside and out, and if their offense gets going in transition, beating Charlotte's defense up the court. But if Indiana's offense continues its inefficient ways, this game might come down to the wire.