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Bobcats Sneak By Pacers; Playoffs Still a Dream

Ho hum, the Bobcats sleepwalked their way through a win over the Indiana Pacers, 103-94. The sluggishness was understandable following the tough loss to the Magic last night, but it was still somewhat disconcerting.

Gerald Wallace ended up with 25 points to lead the team, but that was on 5-17 shooting, mitigated by 15-17 shooting from the charity stripe. Gerald also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished 7 assists for an all around solid game.

Emeka put up "only" 12 points, had 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks, but that was in 21 minutes. DeSagana Diop only played about 11 minutes, and Nazr Mohammed got the big ol' DNP-CD, so realize that for a good chunk of the game, one of Boris Diaw and Vladimir Radmanovic was the nominal center.

Charlotte went small like that because Indiana was shorthanded. Jeff Foster was out with an injury, leaving Hibbert, Nesterovic, and Murphy as the only guys who might pass as traditional big men. Hibbert got two fouls within the first two minutes and was in serious foul trouble the rest of the night. Add in Danny Granger's sprained foot that caused him to leave early after only 10 minutes of play, and the Pacers were forced to give extended minutes to Maceo Baston at power forward with Troy Murphy at center. Ouch. I don't care how well Murphy played. He's not picking up the slack of losing Granger and going to Marquis Daniels and Maceo Baston. And Murphy did play exceptionally well, posting 18 points and 16 boards.

Ignoring the results and concentrating on the process, maybe the advantage of giving Emeka a lot of rest outweighed any strategic advantage to playing bigger than Indiana possibly could. But I still don't understand how Juwan Howard and Nazr Mohammed couldn't get any playing time at all when Indiana was forced to stay small for the vast majority of the game, especially on the second half of a back to back. Yet again, Larry Brown stayed with a tight rotation, even against a team that was playing Travis Diener at shooting guard.

(I'm not sure I have the means to test this hypothesis, but perhaps a reader does: Do Larry Brown's starters tend to play more minutes than other coaches' starters? Does it have an adverse effect late in the season? Which coaches grind their starters most? You'd have to control for players' career paths, era, and other variables, but it shouldn't be too hard to find, if it hasn't already.)

But before I nitpick Brown too much, it's duly noted that the Pacers shot themselves in the foot by going 13-23 from the foul line, and the Bobcats secured a comfortable lead by going 27-33. While still far from excellent at the line, the Cats have improved by two percentage points in free throw shooting over last year's squad. DJ Augustin's excellent mark can't be the only cause of that, can it? Crash is better. Okafor is better. Raja is a better free throw shooter than Carroll was last year. Diaw is only 63% from the line. Is the improvement Brown's doing? I tend to think so, and it's just another element of the Bobcats' game that's been professionalized since he arrived.

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Yes, Ziggy, you're crazy. You use a standard one game better (41-41) than the one I've been using (40-42) to indicate a nebulous "in the playoff conversation" notion. Count which games are winnable, which ones are loseable, and which ones are in a grey area. With 30 games to go, I counted 12 winnable, 11 loseable, and 7 tossups. We've lost a loseable and won a winnable. I think we'll agree that they can't lose any of their tossups or winnables, and therefore, the odds are extremely long.