There were moments in the Charlotte Bobcats’ next-to-last exhibition Thursday that made you smile or slap the table in front of you or even say, “Man.”
I like good basketball. I like it when the visiting team, on this day the Milwaukee Bucks, plays it. And when the Bobcats, who were so undermanned and overwhelmed last season, play good basketball, I like that even more.
Point guard Kemba Walker works the left side, hits fellow point guard Ramon Sessions at the key and Sessions immediately hits Gerald Henderson near the right corner. Henderson hits the jump shot.
Ben Gordon finds Walker, who flips the ball to Byron Mullens, and Mullens hits a 3.
Bismack Biyombo grabs an offensive rebound, passes to Walker and Walker hits Reggie Williams in the left corner. Williams nails the 3.
Biyombo also jumps onto a front-row seat for a loose ball. The seat is empty. The game begins at 11 a.m.
The Bobcats are best when they quickly move the ball, and on Thursday Walker usually was in the middle of the movement.
He plays a game-high 40 minutes, scores a game-high 20 points, has a game-high seven assists and, importantly, does not turn the ball over.
Walker also takes 16 field goal attempts, which ties him with Sessions for game-high, and makes six. In the fourth quarter, when the Bobcats are outscored by 17, he is 2 for 7.
Up by 20 early in the third quarter, Charlotte loses 100-90.
The Bobcats aren’t good. But they’re better. When your point guard plays 40 minutes and doesn’t turn the ball over, you ought to have a chance to win.
Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap talks about the work Walker did at Connecticut, where he led the Huskies to the 2011 national championship. He says parts of the game Walker played there are beginning to come out.
To compete, Dunlap will have to be as creative as any of his players. This is not an inherently high-scoring group That’s why he started Walker and Sessions together. That’s why he played rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is 6-foot-7, at power forward.
The small lineup was tough to guard. But while the Bobcats were being tough to guard, the Bucks were hammering them.
Milwaukee grabbed 56 rebounds, Charlotte 38. Milwaukee grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, Charlotte 12. Milwaukee had four players with seven or more rebounds. Charlotte had Brendan Haywood.
The crowd loved the home team anyway. Time Warner Cable Arena was filled with fans more supportive than the Bobcats, or any other team in Charlotte, will encounter all season.
Students from schools across the city and suburbs, most of them in middle school, were bused to the game. They didn’t have to go to school so they should have been supportive. Schools decided which students would attend.
Haywood says he liked the loud and constant support so much he wants to sponsor them and bring them back, still them near the top of the arena. He’s kidding, but it’s a nice thought. If they liked what they saw, maybe they coax a parent or parents to bring them back.
About the game, Haywood says the team has so many new players – five who weren’t with the team last season were in the rotation Thursday – they’re still figuring each other out.
The Bobcats have time. There will be little pressure and minimal expectations this season, and nobody in management is likely to be fired.
The Bobcats were historically bad in 2011-12. To expect them to suddenly win half their games is unrealistic.
Twenty victories would be solid. Twenty-five would be golden.
The Bobcats have to show the city that have the right players, and the right coach, and if you like them this season, wait until the next one.