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Charlotte Bobcats concerned with defensive slippage

Bucks Bobcats Basketball
Chuck Burton - AP
Milwaukee Bucks' John Henson, left, and Charlotte Bobcats' Cody Zeller, right, battle for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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All the way back to the summer, new Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford called transition defense his “non-negotiable.”

So after a break for Christmas, Clifford put getting back on defense atop his team’s “to-do” list at practice.

“We worked on it today – just getting our defense organized,” Clifford said Thursday. “When we’ve gotten back, for the most part, our defense has been good. The other night we did a poor job of that. So today we watched film, worked on it, and hopefully it will get better.”

That will be tested in Friday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC (23-5) is probably the NBA’s most-balanced team this season, with the Thunder second in field-goal percentage defense (41.8 percent) and fifth in field-goal percentage offense (46.9 percent).

The Bobcats (14-15) are far less effective offensively at 42.3 percent (29th among 30 teams). So it’s crucial to their playoff chances they continue to excel defensively. They’re currently third in the league in field-goal percentage defense at 42.6 percent.

Clifford said as much to his team at halftime of Monday’s 111-110 overtime victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.

“We are making mistakes on cuts and coverages that we haven’t had,” Clifford said after the game. “I told them you can’t get away from that.”

Defense – not giving up easy looks and closing out stops with rebounds – has consistently been this team’s strength the first third of the season. But the past four games illustrate some of what Clifford meant by “slippage.”

The opponent field-goal percentage isn’t dramatically worse (42.9 percent, compared with 42.3 percent previously). But points allowed is way up (101.5 per game vs. 92.3) and rebounding differential has gone from essentially even to a 3.2 per-game deficit of late.

Clifford said the rebounding is somewhat a function of recent opponents (Detroit, Toronto and Utah) that are good on the offensive boards. But still this is something that can’t fester.

“It is a big thing,” shooting guard Gerald Henderson said. “The reason we’ve been in most of our games is because we’ve gotten back and set our defense. Be in position to stop people and get rebounds. We’ve back-tracked a little in that sense.”

Henderson said this isn’t that hard to do because transition defense isn’t a skill, it’s an attitude.

“We’ve got to get back right after our shots – get back in the paint, so they can’t penetrate, get open shots,” Henderson said. “That’s something we’ve been really good at, but it’s something we sort of lost track of in the last couple weeks. Got to get back to that.”

The rebounding, too, is more a function of effort than talent.

“It’s about toughness – get in there and block guys out,” Henderson said. “Make them take a contested shot, then checking your man, blocking out. It has to be everyone, not just the big men. The guards, too.

“That’s something that can easily be fixed, because we have been good at it.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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