All the way back to the summer, new Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford called transition defense his non-negotiable.
So after a break for Christmas, Clifford put getting back on defense atop his teams to-do list at practice.
We worked on it today just getting our defense organized, Clifford said Thursday. When weve gotten back, for the most part, our defense has been good. The other night we did a poor job of that. So today we watched film, worked on it, and hopefully it will get better.
That will be tested in Fridays home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC (23-5) is probably the NBAs most-balanced team this season, with the Thunder second in field-goal percentage defense (41.8 percent) and fifth in field-goal percentage offense (46.9 percent).
The Bobcats (14-15) are far less effective offensively at 42.3 percent (29th among 30 teams). So its crucial to their playoff chances they continue to excel defensively. Theyre currently third in the league in field-goal percentage defense at 42.6 percent.
Clifford said as much to his team at halftime of Mondays 111-110 overtime victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.
We are making mistakes on cuts and coverages that we havent had, Clifford said after the game. I told them you cant get away from that.
Defense not giving up easy looks and closing out stops with rebounds has consistently been this teams strength the first third of the season. But the past four games illustrate some of what Clifford meant by slippage.
The opponent field-goal percentage isnt dramatically worse (42.9 percent, compared with 42.3 percent previously). But points allowed is way up (101.5 per game vs. 92.3) and rebounding differential has gone from essentially even to a 3.2 per-game deficit of late.
Clifford said the rebounding is somewhat a function of recent opponents (Detroit, Toronto and Utah) that are good on the offensive boards. But still this is something that cant fester.
It is a big thing, shooting guard Gerald Henderson said. The reason weve been in most of our games is because weve gotten back and set our defense. Be in position to stop people and get rebounds. Weve back-tracked a little in that sense.
Henderson said this isnt that hard to do because transition defense isnt a skill, its an attitude.
Weve got to get back right after our shots get back in the paint, so they cant penetrate, get open shots, Henderson said. Thats something weve been really good at, but its something we sort of lost track of in the last couple weeks. Got to get back to that.
The rebounding, too, is more a function of effort than talent.
Its about toughness get in there and block guys out, Henderson said. Make them take a contested shot, then checking your man, blocking out. It has to be everyone, not just the big men. The guards, too.
Thats something that can easily be fixed, because we have been good at it.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell