Over the past two seasons, the Brooklyn Nets have feasted on the Charlotte Bobcats. The duo which keyed that dominance might not be available for this season's series opener, though Brooklyn hasn't been doing well with or without them playing.
The Bobcats could be primed to reverse their recent fortunes against the visiting Nets on Wednesday night in a matchup of teams coming off back-to-back losses but in seemingly much different shape.
Brook Lopez and Deron Williams have missed Brooklyn's last two games with sprained ankles, and it remains uncertain when either former All-Star will return. The Nets dropped both games, including a 110-103 loss to the Clippers on Saturday when Paul Pierce (groin) and Kevin Garnett (ankle) also sat out, though both aging veterans returned Monday for a 108-98 defeat to Portland.
"Injuries are a part of the game. We have those right now. But there are no excuses," coach Jason Kidd said. "If we can't score, we have to be able to hold the opponent and right now we aren't doing it."
Brooklyn (3-7) is giving up 102.4 points per game, compared to Charlotte's 92.9 average which ranks among the league's best. That defensive difference is a major reason the Nets are near the Eastern Conference basement while the Bobcats (5-6) own the East's fifth-best record after having the worst mark in the NBA over the previous two seasons.
That span included losses in all seven meetings with Brooklyn as Williams averaged 24.7 points, highlighted by a franchise-record 57 at Charlotte on March 4, 2012. Lopez averaged 20.3 points on 66.7 percent shooting in last season's three matchups as the Nets won by an average of 15.3 points.
This Brooklyn team heads to Charlotte, however, having lost five of six. It let its last two opponents shoot a combined 52.9 percent.
"It's been a tough month for us," said Jason Terry, shooting 7 for 25 over the last five games. "We're going to stay optimistic, man. We have a great situation here and we're just going to keep building."
The chance of that happening may depend on Lopez and Williams being healthy along with Pierce and Garnett playing better. Pierce made 2 of 12 on Monday and has hit 32.1 percent in his last five games. Garnett is at 32.6 percent for the season and hadn't scored in double figures before getting 16 on Friday, but 12 came during Brooklyn's 40-point first period. He shot 2 for 13 after that.
Shaun Livingston had 23 points starting for Williams, but the Nets were held to 35 in the second half and have been outscored in the third quarter of every loss.
The Bobcats were held to 81 points in each of their last two games but didn't seem too discouraged. Those losses came to two of the East's top teams - Miami and Chicago - and both were close well into the fourth quarter.
"We fought hard," coach Steve Clifford said after Monday's 86-81 defeat to the Bulls.
Clifford did not have Al Jefferson (ankle) for a third straight game but hopes his starting center can play Wednesday, though it's more likely he will return Friday against Phoenix.
Even without Jefferson, Charlotte held Chicago to 36.0 percent from the field and impressed Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
"They're great defensively," Thibodeau said. "Steve's a hell of a coach. He's doing an unbelievable job."
The Bobcats, though, have lost their last three home games. Brooklyn is 1-5 on the road but 13-3 all-time in Charlotte.