The Charlotte Bobcats have a knack for placing themselves in predicaments. Wednesday they finally developed a knack for escaping one.
The worst team in the NBA, record-wise, was down 19 points in the first quarter to the second-worst team. But the Orlando Magic became second-worst by being just about as fragile as the Bobcats.
So with 34 points each from Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats at least made it a race to avoid being 30th of 30 NBA teams, beating the Magic 114-108 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Bobcats are now 17-54, a half-game behind the 18-54 Magic, both in the Southeast Division standings and overall in the league. Would avoiding the NBA’s worst record still count for something?
“I’ll play for that. You never want to be seen as the worst team,” said Henderson, who was 12-of-18 from the field and took 10 trips to the foul line. “Last year we were the undisputed worst team.”
That’s when they went 7-59, for the worst winning percentage in NBA history. The Bobcats believe they’ve improved since then, even if they’re a long way from a playoff spot.
Wednesday the Bobcats trailed 39-20 at the end of the first quarter, giving up the most points in any quarter this season. But with three starters injured (Nik Vucevic, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis), the Magic is in no position to cruise. The Bobcats trimmed the deficit to four midway through the second quarter, then scored 54 points in the second half to win their third game in four tries this season against Orlando.
Henderson and Walker were spectacular in the second half, combining for 41 points off 15-of-21 shooting. Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap kept putting Walker in a high pick-and-roll with center Bismack Biyombo (11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks).
The Magic trapped Walker, trying to make him pass or take guarded jump shots instead of getting to the rim. That seldom worked, as Walker finished the game with nine free-throw attempts.
“They kind of switched (the defense) all game. I think I made the best of it,” Walker described. “We kept our heads and we stayed together.”
Examples of that: The Bobcats held the Magic scoreless in five of Orlando’s last six possessions. And the play that clinched this victory – a 20-foot lob pass from Ben Gordon to power forward Josh McRoberts for a dunk – epitomized smart improvisation.
“This time of year makes it tough, especially when you have no shot at the playoffs,” Dunlap said. “We want to improve, and we want to let our fans know we’re still fully engaged.”