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In recent history, the Bobcats are usually on the short-end of routs, but last night they flipped the script, beating the lowly Milwaukee Bucks 96-72. The loss – the Bucks’ eighth in a row on the way to an Eastern Conference worst 2-10 – prompted an apology from Coach Larry Drew.
"I owe the fans a big, big apology for the performance of this team tonight. Very, very disappointed," Drew said, according to an Associated Press report. "A team that I really thought after last night's loss would come out and play with some energy, with some passion and they did not do that." As much as Drew can blame the loss on a lack of energy, the Bobcats played a more physical game outrebounding the Bucks 52-36, and only allowed 28 points in the paint.
In Al Jefferson’s second game back from an ankle injury that has limited him to five games this season, he returned to form, pacing the Cats with 19 points on 8-for-15 from the field, as well as seven rebounds. The Cats transform their offensive focus, when Jefferson’s in the line-up. His presence on the low-block will provide a security blanket for points, if he can stay healthy and play consistently.
The Cats set the tone in the first half by feeding the big man, but also by driving the lane for easy buckets on their way to 48 points in the paint and efficient 49.4 percent shooting from the field.
Gerald Henderson added 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the field. Five Cats scored in double figures.
Coach Steve Clifford has continued to fiddle with the Cats rotation, evident in last night’s win on the road. Jeff Adrien, who saw limited playing time at the start of the season, logged 17 minutes and contributed 10 boards. On the other hand, Bismack Biyombo and Anthony Tolliver only played five minutes apiece. It’s worth noting that Ben Gordon was the only player, who did not see the floor.
One question that will be rearing its head at some point is: How long can the Cats afford to play lottery selection Cody Zeller significant minutes; he played 26 last night and had two points and five rebounds. After tearing up Summer League play, Zeller has expectedly descended back down to earth. Yet, he continues to look confused on the offensive end and has a tendency to disappear on the baseline as the play develops. When he gets touches, he hesitates in deciding between a long jumper or driving into the lane. Zeller, like most rookies, deserves a long leash as he adjusts to the NBA game, but last night was another example of his continued hardships.
At 7-7, the Cats are third in the Southeast Division and would be the sixth seed if the playoffs started today. It’s early in the season, but it appears the Eastern Conference will once again be weak this year. Only four teams have a winning record at this point; that’s right, four. It sounded crazy at the start of the season, but the Cats have shown with a fairly significant sample size that they are a team on the rise. They hustle on defense and have a maturing core of young players a la Pacers, who will be the foundation of this franchise.
It’s too early to discuss playoffs, I know, but the Cats’ success will surprise the national fans and media…if they ever take notice.