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Mullens out with ankle sprain

A mix of players will fill void after forward sprained his left ankle

While the Charlotte Bobcats haven’t projected how long power forward Byron Mullens will be out with a sprained left ankle, you can safely assume this:

He’s not coming back anytime soon.

Mullens took a hard fall late in Saturday’s road loss to the Denver Nuggets. He couldn’t put any weight on the joint, and there was relief around the franchise that he hadn’t fractured his ankle. Still, he figures to be out weeks, if not a month, with the injury.

So the Bobcats (7-20) will have at least one new starter Wednesday night when they face the NBA champion Miami Heat at Time Warner Cable Arena. Another power forward, Tyrus Thomas, is already out with a calf strain, so the options are limited.

Coach Mike Dunlap ran through the candidates: Some new mix of minutes with Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood….More minutes for Hakim Warrick….Getting Jeff Adrien into the rotation.

Coincidental to Mullens’ injury, Dunlap started using veteran Warrick more on the West Coast trip. That now looks serendipitous.

The Bobcats acquired Warrick, a seven-season NBA veteran, in early November from the New Orleans Hornets. While the Bobcats clearly needed another power forward, Warrick didn’t immediately pick up Dunlap’s defensive priorities, and that limited his playing time.

He hadn’t played in three straight games before going 23 1/2 minutes at Golden State last week. He looked good enough in that game (nine points and six rebounds) that Dunlap played him 17 more against the Nuggets (seven points, two rebounds).

Dunlap said Warrick’s ability to score and rebound is a given, so his defense determines his playing time. Warrick gets that.

“When I first came in I was just trying to figure things out. I wasn’t aggressive like I usually am,” said Warrick.

Warrick said he was tentative in his defensive rotations, which was in part a function of not being a Bobcat for Dunlap’s first training camp. Dunlap’s defense is distinctive in the NBA: He overloads the strong side (the side of the lane where the ball is) as much as any NBA coach and he sometimes employs a matchup zone. It took a while to adapt.

“Especially when you’re coming from where I came from, which is the total, total opposite,” Warrick said, referring to Monty Williams’ defense in New Orleans. “There are only so many defenses in this game, but getting it drilled in training camp makes a difference. You have to re-train yourself.”

Dunlap said he never doubted Warrick would adapt over time. Warrick has played in five different NBA systems and played collegiately at Syracuse, where Jim Boeheim succeeds with a 2-3 zone. Dunlap said that’s plenty of out-of-the box experience.

But just like Warrick said, these defensive rotations are challenging.

“Anytime you rotate in the NBA it’s scary,” Dunlap said. “Because of us not being able to hold down (opposing ballhandlers) so much, we have to rotate, which is a form of zone. We have to protect the rim and the paint, and any time we’ve deviated from that, we’ve given up way too many points in the paint.”

So the transition period was predictable.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Dunlap concluded. “We have an on-a-string kind of attitude and when that string is broken, the defense is broken.”

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