Baby steps, right? When youre the Charlotte Bobcats, first you win in summer league. Then in the preseason. And then break that 23-game losing streak before it grows to an NBA record 27.
So far, so good. They beat the Washington Wizards on Sunday in their first exhibition, and they did so decisively: 100-88 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Keep in mind the Wizards were without key players in point guard John Wall and big men Nene and Emeka Okafor. But there was plenty the Bobcats did right, all in line with what new coach Mike Dunlap preached in training camp at UNC Asheville.
They pushed the pace, scoring 32 fast-break points. They pressured the ball, forcing 21 turnovers. Maybe best of all they reached the foul line: 46 free throws, more than doubling Washingtons 21.
Last season, when the Bobcats went 7-59, it seems they could go a week to create 46 foul shots.
Free throws will save the day, Dunlap said. And they force the other team to do things on the bench they might not want to do.
You earn free throws by driving the ball. Gerald Henderson (19 points) reached the line nine times, Byron Mullens had five attempts and rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist six. That reflected an offense that had more options, pushed the ball harder, and passed aggressively.
Or as Mullens described, not defaulting to last seasons clogged-up spots on the floor.
Henderson elaborated: This is all about pushing the ball into the paint. Its just naturally what happens when you attack more Were trying to push the ball every time we get it. Off a steal, off a made basket, off a free throw.
Dunlap wants them to play as fast as they can while still under control. Charlottes turnovers 21 were on the high side, but not radically beyond whats acceptable.
Certainly that pace works for Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick in June. He had a versatile game 12 points, six rebounds and three steals that was highlighted by a spectacular strip of Wizards forward Trevor Ariza.
Kidd-Gilchrist reached around Arizas body, punched the ball up through Arizas arms and caught it in mid-stride, going undeterred to the other end for a dunk.
With Michael, our biggest job is to stay out of his way coaching-wise, Dunlap said. Hes so instinctive. If you give him a thousand plays you hinder that.