The sample is just five preseason games, and you won’t see the Charlotte Bobcats slapping the floor Duke-style, but something is sure working about this team’s defense.
The Bobcats clobbered the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday in the annual “Cool School” exhibition 110-84. Key stat: The 76ers scored just 49 points through three quarters.
By game’s end, Philadelphia shot 37 percent and committed 23 turnovers. The 76ers are a bad team that played without several of their better players. But the Bobcats (3-2) are guarding with consistency and purpose.
For the preseason, they’re allowing 81.4 points and 39 percent shooting. New coach Steve Clifford is reluctant to pronounce this defense a finished product, but he likes what he sees.
“We’re getting back in transition, we’re not fouling and we’re protecting the paint,” Clifford said.
“It starts with the players wanting to do it. That’s not a coaching thing. We help them with a style of pick-and-roll defense, but it still comes down to them.”
Then Clifford offered a caution: “The toughest part (about NBA defense) is when LeBron (James) has got the ball at the top (of the key), and then what do you do? You don’t get that in the preseason.”
Clifford’s point – that the superstars aren’t breaking you down for long stretches in exhibitions – is valid. But so is the progress this team is making defensively. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson, the longest-tenured Bobcat, sees a difference he says started over the summer.
“We’ve got a group of guys who love to play, love to compete and are tired of losing,” Henderson said. “We all like each other and that matters (to synergy).
“I think every practice, every game and every shootaround we’ve taken seriously. We’re improving every day.”
Points in the lane and free-throw attempts seem a good indicator. In seasons past the Bobcats frequently gave up 50 points in the paint. Thursday they scored 50 there, while allowing the 76ers 36. The Bobcats blocked 12 Philadelphia shots Thursday, including center Bismack Biyombo’s four.
They did all that without fouling. The 76ers took 18 trips to the foul line to the Bobcats’ 36. And that wasn’t a one-game thing: For the preseason, the Bobcats have attempted 158 free throws to opponents’ 86.
Clifford mentioned point guard Kemba Walker as a player who’s clearly improved defensively. At 6-foot-1 and 184 pounds, it can be a challenge for Walker to hold up physically defending pick-and-roll. But he’s been effective so far this preseason.
“Maybe I’m just putting more effort into it,” said Walker (13 points and five assists). “(Clifford) has been teaching me ways of not getting hit, of getting around the pick.”
Like Clifford, Walker isn’t pronouncing the defense “fixed” just yet, but he likes the trend line.
“We’re staying disciplined, we’re talking to each other and we’re getting stops.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129 Twitter: @rick_bonnell