NBA

Bobcats' D shows up, but offense still has holes

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Game Time: Bobcats 104, Pacers 88

I'm sure that Larry Brown thoroughly enjoyed snapping his team's seven-game losing streak with such an easy win. The Bobcats' energy at both ends of the court certainly was a factor, but the visiting Pacers were listless from the get-go — content to hoist up long-range jumpers and mostly reluctant to drive the ball into the paint. Despite the easy going, the game managed to showcase Charlotte's strengths and weaknesses. To whit: The Bobcats played the passing lanes with an aggressiveness that wasn't at all out of control. Also, on several occasions, players swiped opponents' dribbles from behind. Post-up Pacers were often fronted, with entry passes sometimes stolen outright and with weak-side help usually showing up on time. Gerald Wallace set the standard here when he rotated to the middle and decisively swatted an attempted layup by 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert. The Bobcats attacked high screen-and-rolls in several ways. Sometimes fighting through, with the bigs assuming appropriate help-postures on the weak-side. Sometimes going under and challenging the Pacers guards to hit treys. And sometimes switching. As a result, the Pacers never got comfortable running their screen-and-roll options. Indiana wound up shooting only 41 percent, including a 5-for-22 effort from the outskirts. Overall, Charlotte's ball-hawking tactics forced 15 turnovers, which led directly to 21 points. However, Stephen Jackson turned his head several times, was lifted by a crude ball-fake 20-feet from the hoop and was easily overpowered by both Dahntay Jones and Tyler Hansbrough on just plain drives. In fact, head-turning seemed to be contagious with Wallace (twice) and Diaw also guilty of getting burned when they tracked the ball and lost their men. Luckily for Charlotte, the lackadaisical Pacers failed to fully capitalize on these defensive miscues. On offense, the Bobcats interspersed high screen-and-rolls with handoffs and took full advantage of any resulting mismatches. Indeed, most of their total of 27 isolation plays developed when a big was compelled to defend a small, and vice versa. The respective isolators were: Gerald Wallace (five isos for two points); Jackson (six isos for four points); Flip Murray (seven isos for five points); Boris Diaw (three isos for two points); Raymond Felton (one iso for two points); Stephen Graham (three isos for six points); and Gerald Henderson (two isos for two points). Otherwise, the Bobcats usually scored on the run and on drives-and-dishes. Early on, the brunt of the offense was carried by Nazr Mohammed, who was much too quick for the slow-footed Hibbert to defend. Mohammed tallied his team-high total of 18 points — 8-for-10 from the field — on driving hooks, back-door cuts and receptions, as well as his always reliable short- and mid-range jumpers. Tyson Chandler was out with back spasms, so rookie Derrick Brown was the backup center, showing quickness, a lively body, length and a surprisingly soft jumper. Felton was steady as could be with six assists and zero turnovers. The latter stat was sure to warm the cockles of Larry Brown's heart. As ever, Diaw was smooth, making significant contributions in every aspect of the game. And it was Diaw who nailed the Bobcats' lone three while his teammates shot a collective 0-for-10. Jackson's official numbers indicate that he had an OK game on offense: 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting, four assists and no free throws. But in addition to his assists, Jackson also completed five alert passes to set up scoring situations. Flip Murray knows how to get off makeable shots, but he forced a few and wound up with a sorry line: 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting and three turnovers. D.J. Augustin concentrated on moving the ball — 1-for-2 shooting and five assists — and did a good job. The game marked only the third time this season that the Bobcats had scored 100 or more points and, indeed, scoring is a huge problem area. Counting this win, they remain 29th in scoring (85.3 ppg) and 29th in field goal percentage (41.3 percent). That's because their perimeter shooting is awful — 27.1 percent from beyond the arc and also 29th in the league. And they have extremely limited post-up options (mostly Wallace), all of which means they have to work extremely hard to score sufficient points to beat any team that — unlike the Pacers on Sunday — has come to play. Hopefully, Stephen Jackson's long-distance dialing will do much to remedy this situation. But even if Jackson shoots the lights out, the Bobcats will still lack the interior and exterior firepower to make a sustained run at a playoff spot.

Straight shooting

Sometimes he calls himself Agent Zero, and sometimes it's Hibachi — but you know who he is. Gilbert Arenas, the not-so-super hero with the not-so-secret identities. Obviously, the dude is confused about his self-identity, on the court and most likely off the court. Should he concentrate on passing? Or on shooting? Does he want his eggs scrambled? Or soft-boiled? How about a big-cheese omelet? Perhaps his erratic self-image is the reason why he's made only 41.1 percent of his shots in the playoffs — as opposed to 42.7 percent in the regular season. Or why his 3-point accuracy is likewise diminished in the money season — 31.9 percent compared to 35.8 percent. Moreover, will anyone (or more) of his personalities improve his 39.4 shooting percentage entering the weekend? Or create a more beneficial difference between his per game assists (6.5) and his turnovers (4.2)? And will he conduct a public multiple-choice survey among his fans to determine which of his manifestations will be responsible for the next time he chokes in a critical playoff game? There's no denying that Arenas is an incredible talent on offense at least. However, as is the case with LeBron James and Stephen Jackson, I surely do wish he'd shut his yap and just play basketball. In any event, and with apologies to Stevie Winwood, I'd also like to suggest a new persona for Arenas: Mr. Fantasy.

Vox Populi

We all know the upsides of the great players — Jordan's tenacity, Magic's versatility, Bird's clutch play, Wilt's otherworldly point-making, Russell's defensive genius, et cetera. Could you give us some idea of the downside of these guys? Please include the likes of Olajuwon, Ewing, David Robinson, Barkley, Malone, and Stockton in your analysis. Thanks. — Johannes Suhendra, West Java, Indonesia After overcoming his tendency to dominate the ball and force shots, MJ really didn't have any weaknesses — except for being nasty to any teammates who didn't perform up to his expectations. Out of necessity as Jordan's career progressed, he'd often have to pick his spots to play top-notch defense, but this was both understandable and excusable. If pressed, I'd say that his 3-point shooting was often inconsistent — indeed, of all his offensive options, opponents wanted him to take as many perimeter shots as he desired. Even if he shot a high percentage from out there, he'd be kept off the foul line, and his teammates would be excluded from the offense. Late in his career, Magic developed a one-handed push shot — but he never was a reliable outside shooter. Also, throughout his career, he was a subpar defender.

Bird wasn't especially quick, fast, or strong. Moreover, if he was an excellent team-defender, Bird had difficulty defending when put in iso situations. Bill Russell couldn't shoot anything except layups, dunks, and lefty hooks. Occasionally, he'd knock down a 15-foot jumper, and sometimes he converted a free-throw (56.1 percent for his career) — but Russ was the perfect role player on 11 championship teams. Wilt couldn't make free throws, was stubborn, and was often intimidated by the demonstrable courage of his opponents. By Russell, for example, and infamously by Willis Reed in the seventh game of the 1973 championship series. The only flaws in Olajuwon's game his lack of overpowering strength, and a tendency to handle the ball loosely while on the move. For his career, he averaged 2.5 assists and 2.97 turnovers. Ewing played little defense, was reluctant to pass, and was a big-time choker. Robinson was all finesse, had limited offensive moves with his back to the basket (depending almost exclusively on an up-fake to create space for his shots), and many opposing coaches and players considered him to be too soft. Barkley was rarely in shape, had limited shooting range (26.6 percent from beyond the arc), often dribbled the ball to death before making some kind of attack-move, was essentially a good defender but was reluctant to risk picking up fouls, and (with Houston) was a back-biter in the locker room. Malone was a vastly overrated defender who lost too many gambles. He wasn't particularly adroit passing out of heavy traffic. But, above all, he seldom delivered the mail in clutch situations. Stockton's only discernable weakness was his lack of jet-speed. Otherwise, there were no holes in his game. Now, all you bloggers, don't get your keyboards in an uproar. I'm only answering the question.

Travels with Charley

Eddie Mast was one of my best buddies. Indeed, he was the best buddy of a lot of people. That's how funny, smart, compassionate and natural he was. Plus, he could hoop (New York Knicks 1970-72, Atlanta Hawks 1972-73), play a mean electric blues guitar, barbecue chicken to perfection, the trunk of his car always contained a cooler filled with beer and he was always comfortable in any and all situations. We played together and against each other, conducted clinics, partied, and we even played a rousing, if hazy, nine holes of pitch-and-put golf. Did I mention that he was one of the best players to ever appear in the Eastern League? On October 18, 1994, Eddie was participating in a regular run at Lafayette College, which was only a few blocks away from his home high on a hill in Easton, Pa. Midway though one particular game, Eddie hit a lefty hook ... and then suddenly dropped to the floor. Witnesses said he was dead before his head bounced off the court. At the time, his oldest son, Derek, played defensive end for the Lafayette football team — which, coincidently, was in the middle of a team meeting just a few doors down from the gym. Derek was quickly summoned and rushed to his dad's side. Yes, Eddie was gone ... But, somehow, he managed to re-open his eyes and smile at Derek before he left us forever. I can't believe it's been 15 years since Eddie passed. And I can't believe how much his family and I — and dozens of his other best buddies — still miss him. Mongo Mast. RIP.

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