Scott Fowler

February 27, 2014

Fowler: Next four games an NBA measuring stick for Charlotte Bobcats

The Charlotte Bobcats face the NBA's four top teams in the next six days, and a 2-2 split would be a major victory. But the Bobcats players can't, and don't, look at it that way.

Scared? They aren’t scared.

The Charlotte Bobcats are pro athletes, so they won’t look at the demonic work of the NBA schedule maker and tremble.

Their fans, however, are another matter. Never in their decade of existence have the Bobcats faced a taller order on the basketball court than this one. It is a quartet of doom, a four-pack of foreordained pain.

The Bobcats play the NBA’s four best teams by record in a row in a six-day span, from Friday through Wednesday. The first three games are on the road – a crooked path of torment through San Antonio on Friday, Oklahoma City on Sunday and Miami on Monday. That is followed by a home game against Indiana Wednesday.

So what’s realistic, Kemba Walker? Would a 2-2 split be a major victory when you are playing the first four 40-win teams of the 2013-14 NBA season consecutively?

“We want to win all four,” Walker said bravely. “That’s the goal. It’s never ‘Let’s try to split.’ We want to go 4-0. That’s my goal, and I’m pretty sure that’s everyone else’s goal.”

That sounds pretty ridiculous. But it is what Walker has to believe, and it is what a team leader should say.

And the Bobcats (27-30) do have a couple of “fours” on their side already as they attempt Walker’s 4-0 feat. They have won four games in a row entering this stretch – albeit against lesser competition. They also have had a rare four days straight of practice this week, from Monday through Thursday, which has given some relief to the veterans’ aching joints and a chance for new Bobcats guards Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour to get a crash course in the Bobcats’ system.

“This is most definitely a challenge,” Bobcat center Al Jefferson said. “And I am most definitely looking forward to it. We’ve won four in a row. I feel good about it.”

For the Bobcats to win any of these games, Walker and Jefferson must lead the way. The offense runs through those two on almost every possession these days.

Rookie head coach Steve Clifford’s team would make the NBA playoffs if the season ended today. He’d like to be able to still say that in another week. And he has a slightly different take on the four-game stretch.

“I say it’s six games,” Clifford said. “Because after those four, we have Cleveland at home and we have to go to Memphis. So to me, that’s a brutal six-game stretch. And at the end of it we’ll know what we have to get better at. You’re going to be playing the best, night after night, and so we’re going to know exactly where we’re at.”

Neal is supposed to help them get better at one thing they don’t have enough of – reliable three-point shooting. The team’s effort is very good. You can tell that no one on this roster has ever played on a Bobcats playoff team, because they are obviously hungry for it.

When you play what will likely be the top two seeds in both the Eastern and the Western Conference in six days, however, effort and hunger are not enough. Defense and rebounding will be a lot of it. Guarding Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Paul George, a masked LeBron James and all of their cohorts is never easy, but all of these teams are gearing up for the playoffs and making their own stretch runs as they attempt to get the No.1 seeds and the resulting homecourt advantage.

“It’s going to be a grind,” Walker said. “Our next four games are against the four best teams in the league. But I think we’re definitely prepared, especially mentally. And our chemistry is the highest it has been all year.”

It all begins Friday in San Antonio, against a team the Bobcats almost beat at home recently. If I’m Clifford, I would take 2-2 in a heartbeat in these four games and I wouldn’t be angry about 1-3, either. You just don’t want to go 0-4, because that sort of losing streak will mean that the little bit of cushion Charlotte has built in the playoff race will all but disappear.

The Bobcats know that the next six days are going to be painful. They just need to make sure that they inflict some of the pain.

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