Bobcats at Magic 7 p.m. SportSouth

Poor starts finishing Bobcats early

Charlotte falling into first-quarter deficits and can’t catch up

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 17, 2013 

— It’s not the finish that is beating the Charlotte Bobcats these days, it’s the start – dreadful first quarters that have played a huge role in this team losing 23 of its last 25 games.

Drill into the numbers and you see a team that falls behind by double digits in the first 10 minutes, spends the rest of the game trying to get even, then has nothing left for a finishing kick.

This trend, which coach Mike Dunlap has acknowledged anecdotally, seems to have started in a 15-point loss at Milwaukee Dec. 7. That’s the game where the Bobcats trailed by 15 late in the first quarter, were outrebounded by six that quarter and never recovered.

The low-post defense was so bad that game that Dunlap didn’t start big men Brendan Haywood and Byron Mullens in the second half. Bad as that night seemed, it became more the norm than the anomaly in games that followed.

The Observer crunched the numbers for the 21 games starting with that loss to the Bucks: Two victories and 19 losses. The Bobcats fell behind by seven or more points in the first quarter of 15 of those losses. In fact, they were down 13 or more in the first quarter in eight of those losses.

The numbers from those 15 games show how dramatically bad starts are hurting this team: They shot 40 percent in those first quarters, while allowing opponents to shoot 56 percent. They were outrebounded by 3.4 boards in those first quarters, which is equivalent to their rebounding deficit for the entire season.

Simplest of all, they were outscored in those 15 first quarters by 11.6 points per game.

Talk about having to swim up rapids to ever compete.

“You expend so much energy trying to get back into a game,” said Bobcats co-captain Gerald Henderson. “Then, when it’s time to win, you have to get energy all over again to get over the top.”

The Bobcats have done that just once in this 21-game span; they were down nine in the first quarter on the road against the Detroit Pistons, and came back to win in overtime.

The more common progression is the Bobcats chipping away at a lead, getting to within two perhaps, and then fading back. As veteran shooting guard Ben Gordon put it recently, it’s exhausting to constantly have to play from behind.

More so for a team like the Bobcats, because their firepower is so limited: The Bobcats’ margin of victory in their eight wins this season is 5.0 – smallest in the NBA.

Or as Henderson described, “It’s so difficult when you get down by a lot of points early. So many things have to go right (the rest of the game): You’re trying to make them miss shots and you feel you have to score almost every time.”

Sounds a lot like swimming up rapids.

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