For the Charlotte Bobcats to win, two things have to go very right.
One of them is Gerald Wallace. The other is Jason Richardson.
Charlotte's margin for error is extremely thin against any upper-echelon NBA team. Wallace and Richardson are the Bobcats' best players, and they both have to play superbly for Charlotte to beat someone like Detroit.
On Monday night, they didn't, and Charlotte lost 101-83.
It would be nice to report that the Bobcats could afford an off game from either one of their Big Two and still defeat a team like the Pistons. But that's not true.
The most surefire way for Charlotte to win is what the Bobcats did Saturday against Miami – playing good defense and getting the ball to Richardson and Wallace. They combined for 57 points in that one and Charlotte won handily.
On Monday, the Big Two combined for 19 points – a third of their Saturday total. Richardson scored only four on 2-of-10 shooting and settled for jumpers too often. Wallace worked hard to get his 15 points, constantly drawing fouls, but said he felt all night like the basket had a lid. He made three of 10 shots.
“Rough night,” Wallace said.
“Bad shooting night,” Richardson said.
“It shows you how far we've got to come,” coach Larry Brown said.
Yes, it does. The Bobcats' bench was very good Monday, but that wasn't enough because the starters kept digging holes. Emeka Okafor and Raymond Felton didn't play well, either. But the Bobcats can easier survive a mediocre night from those two starters than they can from Wallace or Richardson.
The Pistons, meanwhile, have all sorts of options. They were short-handed Monday but still had enough. Detroit was playing without former Pistons star Chauncey Billups and future Pistons star Allen Iverson, since those two were swapped in a trade Monday and won't play for their new teams for a couple of days.
Nevertheless, Detroit was taller, deeper and just plain better than the Bobcats. That's not surprising for a Pistons squad that has gone to six straight Eastern Conference finals.
Brown knows he has to ride Wallace and Richardson as far as he can this season. Of Wallace, he said: “I like those long athletic guys that play hard and compete at an unbelievable level all the time.”
Of Richardson, who led the NBA in 3-pointers last season, the coach said: “He can really shoot the ball with range and now he's working on a mid-range jumper. He's really, really talented and he tries to guard every night.”
Note the word “tries.” Despite Richardson's increased defensive effort, it doesn't come naturally. He did his best against Detroit's Rip Hamilton on Monday, but Hamilton still led all scorers with 19.
So after a superb opening night in front of a sellout crowd Saturday, the Bobcats got a dose of realism in front of a half-full building Monday.
Their stars – Richardson and Wallace – simply weren't aligned.