Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford is far from infallible. The fact he so readily admits that is part of the reason I think he’ll succeed.
Three things I’ve noticed about his approach to coaching: He’s honest without critiques becoming mean-spirited or personal, he’s accountable when he’s made a miscalculation and he learns from his mistakes.
A couple examples from Friday’s close road loss to the NBA-best Indiana Pacers:
• Before the game, Clifford volunteered he needs to trust his bench more. In looking back on the road loss to the Dallas Mavericks, when the Bobcats blew a double-digit second-half lead in a place they’ve never won, Clifford decided he’d worn out his starters to a point he didn’t give them an optimum chance to win that game.
• Clifford’s first-half rotation versus the Pacers reflected putting that into practice: Four reserves – Ramon Sessions, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo and Ben Gordon – each played at least nine minutes. I suspect Clifford will reach even deeper into his bench once newcomer Chris Douglas-Roberts is further integrated into the system. Clifford told Douglas-Roberts to be ready Friday, but didn’t end up using him.
The second example is more about accountability: When asked why the Bobcats didn’t close the deal in a tight second half against the 20-3 Pacers, Clifford said his team’s post defense was ill-equipped to stop Indiana and “that’s on me.”
Clifford said his players need more practice guarding in specific strategies, like “fronting the post” (playing between the scorer and the feeder, looking to deny the entry pass) or “front-and-back” (basically sandwiching a post scorer).
Clifford said his players need those options, and he just hasn’t found the time in practice to fine-tune. What he didn’t say was the crowded early schedule – 17 games in the first 31 days – has made it a balancing act between practice and keeping players fresh.
I think the players appreciate all this, particularly after the coaching churn of the previous couple season. They know their roles and what Clifford does and doesn’t like about how they play. They see him admitting mistakes and learning from them.
It’s creating an atmosphere in which everyone feels vested in each other’s success. That’s a big part of why they’re bobbing around .500 and putting a scare in teams like the Pacers and Miami Heat.
• Pacers center Roy Hibbert gave a whole new meaning to the word “game face” Saturday when he went on Twitter to explain why he looked so agitated during the five-point victory over the Bobcats.
According to his tweet, Hibbert applied some Flexall and Bengay to his knees shortly before game time, then put on his game tights. Somehow the heat balms rode up to his, um, uh, man parts, and the burning sensation was pretty uncomfortable. You can’t say Hibbert lacks for candor.
• Here’s to Charlottean Stephen Curry finally being selected for an All-Star Game this February. He’s obviously that good a player. He’s also that much of an entertainer, and isn’t that ultimately what the All-Star Game is about?
• I almost fell over when I got back to my hotel room Friday night, seeing Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard swish a 3-pointer. And it was actually within the offense, because the shot clock was expiring.
• Pacers forward David West is a tough guy, which is a good thing, but in the second half against the Bobcats that toughness bled into trying to play the bully. I don’t know what his problem was with Josh McRoberts, but seems like every time a whistle blew, West was throwing a forearm or an elbow in McRoberts’ direction.
• The Bobcats waiving rookie James Southerland to sign Douglas-Roberts doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the Syracuse shooter’s potential. Clifford said he never expected Southerland to play meaningful minutes this season; rather they wanted to check his progress in practice, then include him on the summer-league roster. Clifford said the team will definitely monitor Southerland wherever he plays this winter.