Bobcats finish season on high note

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comApril 17, 2013 

They didn’t finish last. That’s something, right?

Combine the Charlotte Bobcats’ 105-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Miami Heat, and the Bobcats top the Magic by a game in the standings.

Small potatoes, maybe. But after going 7-59 last season – worst record in NBA history – 21-61 felt OK Wednesday night.

“Absolutely we wanted to avoid that worst record. It was definitely one of our small goals down the stretch,” said Bobcats co-captain Gerald Henderson (15 points and six assists). “Obviously things didn’t go as well as we hoped, but we played hard.”

“Coming down the stretch, we played as pros.”

True enough. They won six of their last 15, and in doing so might have saved their rookie coach’s job. Nothing has been decided one way or the other, but the relatively strong finish spruces up Dunlap’s short-term resume a bit.

“Coach, being a rookie, had some tough things to overcome. Especially with what he was taking on,” Henderson said. “Obviously he’s a hard-working guy and he had the same attitude every day.

“(His forte was) player development more than anything. That started right from the day he got here.”

Point guard Kemba Walker might have been the biggest player-development success. A legitimate candidate for NBA most improved player, Walker finished this season finale with 24 points and seven assists.

Walker had a 15-point fourth quarter to hold off the Cavaliers, after Cleveland had made up all of a 24-point deficit to lead by one.

“I was tired. My wind wasn’t there,” Walker said of his slow start Wednesday.

What will Walker remember about this season?

“That we could compete with anybody when we wanted to,” Walker said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win games.”

Like the Bobcats, the Cavaliers (24-58) are a guard-centric team. Former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving finished with 24 points and 10 assists and rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters nearly stole this game with 14 of his 16 points coming in the fourth.

But Walker became the closer late, making eight of 10 free throw attempts in the game’s last three and-a-half minutes. It’s what he’s done all season out of the pick-and-roll sets he loves.

“I guess so,” Walker said when asked if avoiding the worst record meant something. “My big thing is we finished strong. We came together as a team.”

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