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Jeff Van Gundy: Charlotte Bobcats should and will make the playoffs this season

While 2014 draft class is rich, winning is better than tanking, ESPN analyst says

Jeff Van Gundy brought Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford to the NBA, hiring him as a scout with the New York Knicks in 2000.

Now an ESPN analyst, Van Gundy watches nearly every Bobcats game. Thursday he drew two conclusions on a media conference call:

There’s every reason the Bobcats should make the playoffs and every reason they will make the playoffs.

“I think that’s why they’re going to make the playoffs – because they want to,” Van Gundy said. “Where a lot of other teams in the Eastern Conference are just as content on the days they lose as the days they win.”

The Bobcats made the playoffs once in their 10-year history. They were swept 4-0 by the Orlando Magic in 2010. The only current Bobcat on that team was shooting guard Gerald Henderson. He was a rookie then and never played in the series.

There’s a widely held perception that NBA teams are better off losing this season to position themselves in what might be a rich 2014 draft lottery. Van Gundy doesn’t buy that, particularly considering the Bobcats’ history.

“Just because you get a lottery pick doesn’t mean you’ll get a star. They’ve had high picks,” he said. “There are no guarantees when you get those picks that they’re going to be stars. So it’s important that they win.”

The Bobcats went 28-120 the past two seasons. That resulted in three coaches in three seasons, Clifford being the most recent. He seems to be turning this around, particularly at the defensive end. Van Gundy said the only real flaw on this team is a distinct lack of outside shooting.

Van Gundy said there’s much to be gained from getting into playoff mode, both for the players and the fans.

“I think there is a great, great value in winning and building a winning culture, particularly when you’ve been beaten down by so many years of losing,” Van Gundy said. “Also to try to get the fan base back. … Many nights you look out and there’s no one there. It’s a very empty place.”

Van Gundy said there’s an additional value to reaching the playoffs that is subtle: The post-season is the truest test of strengths and weakness: “You see first-hand what you need to get to where you want to go.”

Five thoughts:

• It’s really sad about Kobe Bryant’s leg fracture. No one who has worked so hard to come back from an Achilles tendon should have that happen so soon after his return. But he’s Kobe, so you know he won’t be deterred by this thing. I just hope he doesn’t push himself to come back before he’s really ready.

• So New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith (Knicks website has it with periods) attempted 17 3s in a game (making only five), then said there’s nothing about that performance that would make him think twice next time. OK…

• Speaking of the Knicks, the past few weeks demonstrated how crucial center Tyson Chandler is to their defense. I honestly think they could have weathered playing without Carmelo Anthony better than they fared without Chandler.

• I asked Van Gundy about Clifford going slow in installing exotic defensive schemes this season. His reply: “The more players are thinking, the slower their feet get.”

• Van Gundy on working with analytics-driven general manager Daryl Morey in Houston: “It made you sit there and analyze why you believed what you believed. I think that’s good. Whether you changed your philosophy or not is really secondary. It made you think.”

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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