Dear Mitch, if you're holding this letter, you already know. The house has been boarded up; the windows, the doors, everything. We're at the Comfort Inn room 112. I love you, Frank.
You know it by now. You and I both now what this is. This Bobcats season has quickly and forcefully turned into a nightmarish goulash of injuries, lack of talent, too many games in too few nights and plain old bad basketball that is quite frankly hard to watch. I'm not trying to sugar coat things, it's bad. But we knew this was coming. I didn't expect it to come this fast and with the dead thud of a Cory Higgins three-pointer (I kid), but it's here. You better believe it, and it might be here to stay this season. I would still like to see this team at "full strength," but how much better is that going to be for this franchise? The Bobcats do have a plan, and we knew going into the season they wanted no part of the middle. Michael Jordan and Rich Cho want to be at the top or at the bottom. The top is pretty occupied right now, soooooooo...
First Quarter: I suppose it's an encouraging sign that Gerald Henderson fought through his pain to start this game for the Bobcats. I can't imagine Henderson was 100%, but he was moving pretty well. The Bobcats jumped out to the wrong end of a 14-3 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Philadelphia is a very good defensive team (ranking first in defensive efficiency in the league according to HoopData.com) and it certainly did nothing to tarnish that reputation against the Bobcats. Of course, Charlotte's combined lack of spacing, inability to penetrate the lane, and general hesitation on offense certainly played right into the 76ers' hands.
Two very telling sequences to me in the first period occurred when Boris Diaw and then Kemba Walker both passed up open jump shots in favor of a pass and dribble drive respectively. The play ended up with Walker passing out of a double team near the corner to an open, but still moving Tyrus Thomas who took a jump shot before he was square. It didn't go in. Diaw really should have shot it and Walker, certainly not shy, had a decent look too but at the very least needed to see a step ahead and avoid that trap. I know, it's a lot to ask of the young rookie but that's what needed to happen. The other possession that looked alarming featured Diaw setting a solid, if sluggish, back screen for Thomas who then transitioned unimpeded across the lane in front of the rim. That transition should have been a flash, preferably with a hand up. No one trailed Thomas or even paid him attention. Which proved to be wise because Thomas never made himself available, nor did Walker ever see his teammate wide open next to the rim. If he did, it was a very discreet peak. It's easy to pick out random plays and criticize, but neither Bobcats player seemed to be aware of making an effort to take advantage. Plainly speaking they weren't playing basketball. It was an instant, and I'm not saying the pass was a guaranteed score, but it's something that you expect to see attempted by two very capable players. The Bobcats were freaking 4-18 in the first quarter for a whopping 10 points. Higgins, who subbed in for Walker with under 2:00 remaining, capped off the quarter by launching a shot put directly into the backboard from three. DeSagna Diop was 2-2.
Second Quarter: Matt Carroll hit his second three-pointer of the year to cut the lead to 10 about two minutes into the second quarter. The next time down Byron Mullens nailed a jumper to get the Bobcats within eight. The second unit, consisting of Higgins, Mullens, Matt Caroll, Derrick Brown along with starter Thomas at least made a push to cut into Philly's lead. As a matter of fact, every Bobcat had played by the 8:00 minute mark in the second quarter except for....can you guess? That's right, Bismack Biyombo! I'm not a basketball coach and whatever rotation the Cats are working with right now I'm sure is a result of...something, but not playing Biyombo continues to be a mystery to me. If the Bobcats were locking teams down (HAHAHAAAA) or even making it somewhat bothersome for opposing guards (forward and centers) to get to the rim I could understand not playing him. Well not really but I could accept it. They're not.
Biyombo finally entered (after another three-point play from Louis Williams) with a little more than seven minutes to go. And just like that he displayed why he wasn't in, and among other reasons, why I'm not a head coach. On the loosest defined pick-and-roll you'll ever see, Biyombo didn't rotate enough into position as Henderson was double-teamed in the corner. The result was a turnover that led to a fast break alley-oop by Thaddeus Young. The Bobcats continued to milk the shot clock before turning it over helping Philadelphia extend its lead to 21 with 4:48 to go. And that's when things really got bad. Paul Silas decided to give his son Stephen an early shot at head coach by apparently kicking the ball twice during a timeout and probably explaining to the officials just how nice the weather in Charlotte is this time of year. He was ejected. I can't blame him. I can't blame him for getting ejected, being frustrated or the product on the floor as of late. There isn't a coach in the league who would be able to do much more with this group right now. It didn't help that the Sixers were hitting from the outside. Charlotte was legitimately in danger of being down 30 at the half. Walker finally got a jumper to go down to cut the lead to 22 at intermission, 59-37.
Should we watch the second half? It's a question any sane person had to ask. Honestly, one game like this is bad. Two is horrible and three is downright disturbing but now it just feels like the same bloodletting has been going on for a week. What the hell....second half!
Third Quarter: I've made a huge mistake. This was quite possibly some of the worst basketball I've ever seen. Awful defense resulting in all five Charlotte players below the foul line left multiple Sixers wide open for an array of jump shots. With 7:41 remaining in the third, the Bobcats really made it seem like they wouldn't score ten points in the quarter. It's not like Philly was shooting the lights out, but with a damn twenty-point lead against this team who really cares. At one point Charlotte play-by-play man Steve Martin said "the door is open," and the lead was 18! And you know what? He was right! Anything under 20 points with this team right now somehow seems encouraging, how crazy is that? The Sixers' perimeter D just continued to stifle the Bobcats. There were no opportunities to take any Philadelphia player off the bounce. You can see why this team has been so effective stopping opponents this year. After cutting the lead to 16 (right!) seven straight points from Philly pushed the lead back to 23.
It's funny how short sequences in the middle of these debacles can really give you insight and maybe even some hope, but mostly just make you cry. Biyombo entered the game and immediately made plays on both ends, gathering a loose ball for a bucket, then blocking a Jrue Holiday jumper (really Jrue, I know you haven't seen a lot of him this year but you have to know that's a questionable shot) and sprinting the floor on the break, perfectly filling the lane and calling for the ball. On a capable team the big man gets rewarded with a feathery lob pass for an easy jam. On this team the break is ruined when Andre Iguodala takes as clean a handoff as you'll see outside of the Super Bowl and heads the other way. There was opportunity there for a good basketball play but just not the right people in the right place to make it.
Fourth Quarter: Eduardo Najera entered the game in the fourth. Really, I could describe the fourth quarter in this space but it would sound pretty much like the rest of this so I'll just save us both some time. It wasn't better, it wasn't any worse than the other three quarters. The Bobcats looked just as inept on both ends as they had since tipoff and somehow only lost by 17, 89-72. Ideally, Walker and Biyombo would have played the entire fourth quarter but they didn't. Biyombo, in fact, played less than every Bobcat not named Eduardo Najera. Najera played five minutes, Biyombo played 12 and Diop played 14. When it's this bad I don't get sticking with any game plan, particularly one that calls to sit a first round draft pick who needs minutes like fish need water. We all know Biyombo is a long way from polished, and I'm not trying to harp on this but for the love of all that is holy let him play. (Too much?)
Walker "led" Charlotte with 14 points on 5-14 shooting. He had just two assists but grabbed 8 boards. Curious, he's averaging more rebounds than assists. Not exactly what you want from your point guard but let's be honest, there's more opportunity to grab missed shots than to contribute to makes.
I'd play the rookies as much as possible; it seriously can't get any worse. I know the Bobcats have not really been at full strength all season but it's not like full strength is going to propel them into the playoffs. When Corey Maggette can't play and you're depending on him for points, that's going to hurt. It's also going to hurt when your starting point guard, and the closest thing this team has to a leader can't go, so missing D.J. Augustin is killing this team. Reggie Williams hasn't even dressed yet and D.J. White, the most consistent Cat his season, was out as well. For his part, Paul Silas knows this and his impressing that on his team. I commend him and the guys that are in there for fighting. It must be impossible to not get down, and anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a beat down on the basketball court (*raises hand*) can tell you it's like a black hole. You feel like there is nowhere to go and it's never-ending.
The Bobcats, I'm sure, are trying to do as much as they can. And that goes too for the coaching staff and all involved but there is no escaping the fact that it's hard to point to a guy on this team who would start for a playoff team. Guys that aren't used to playing are playing a lot more.
Thankfully, this season is already a quarter of the way done. Hopefully it will be like ripping off a Band-Aid: short and as painless as possible with no lasting scars. The Bobcats need to cram these games into this season, get in and get out and gather as many Ping-Pong balls as they can along the way. I keep repeating this was and is part of the plan. You don't want to be in the middle, squeaking into the last spot in the playoffs each year and never threatening to win anything. You want to be at the top or you want to be at the very bottom. Mission accomplished.