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For Charlotte Bobcats, playing a ‘clean’ game is a must

Rick Bonnell
Rick Bonnell covers the Charlotte Hornets and the NBA for the Charlotte Observer. You can reach him by email.
Bobcats Nets Basketball
Bill Kostroun - AP
If you’re around the Charlotte Bobcats regularly, you know first-year coach Steve Clifford is a stickler for precision. I should think he’s like that with any team he’d coach, but more so as it applies to these Bobcats.

I believe in that axiom you fully appreciate something only when it’s gone. That’s what made covering Wednesday’s Charlotte Bobcats-Brooklyn Nets game illuminating.

If you’re around the Bobcats regularly, you know first-year coach Steve Clifford is a stickler for precision. I should think he’s like that with any team he’d coach, but more so as it applies to these Bobcats.

I’ve heard him say it a hundred different ways but to paraphrase Clifford’s point, the Bobcats aren’t good enough, don’t have enough firepower, to get away with being sloppy.

This season they have been anything but sloppy.

A team with a new coaching staff (third in as many seasons) and some key new faces (most notably center Al Jefferson) commits the fewest turnovers and fouls in the NBA. That strikes me as pretty remarkable considering all the change. It’s probably the single biggest reason they are in the playoff race this late in the season.

When they don’t play that way, Wednesday happens. They committed twice as many turnovers as the Nets (15-7) and sent the Nets to the foul line 35 times to the Bobcats’ 12. When you consider the ramifications of all that (Brooklyn scored 21 points off Bobcats turnovers and outscored the Bobcats 21-10 at the foul line), I’m not quite sure how the Bobcats lost by only five.

Clifford often preaches how the Bobcats must play a “clean” game. So Wednesday was the toxic-waste dump of performances as far as what these guys typically value.

Here’s why it must be this way: This team is 20th or worse among 30 NBA teams in every significant offensive category, including points-per-game, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage.

They typically can’t win a shootout. That’s why the big push at the trade deadline was to add a complementary scorer, which they’ve gotten so far in Gary Neal. The bench – and this includes Chris Douglas-Roberts and improving rookie Cody Zeller – is scoring better, but that’s not an every-game given yet.

This is still a team that wins by minimizing turnovers and guarding with a minimum of fouls. They’re actually inter-related: When they’re defending 5-on-5 the Bobcats keep teams out of the lane and off the foul line. But when it’s a scramble out there, they don’t defend so well. Turnovers lead directly to those scrambles.

This isn’t sexy, like watching Kevin Durant go one-on-one against LeBron James. But it’s who the Bobcats are, and it’s succeeded.

Five passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA:

• I hope the Bobcats consider signing point guard Ramon Sessions all over again when he becomes a free agent this summer. Sessions didn’t resent being traded the way some would, and he enjoyed playing in Charlotte near his Myrtle Beach hometown. The Bobcats miss his explosiveness off the dribble.

• The NBA putting Phil Jackson and Jeannie Buss on notice, concerning conflicts of interest, is probably more about perception than reality. You really think the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers – big-market teams with abundant troubles – would do each other favors they otherwise wouldn’t because Phil and Jeannie are engaged?

• New NBA commissioner Adam Silver will visit Charlotte Monday and take in the home game against the Houston Rockets. The little bit I’ve been around Silver so far, I’ve enjoyed his approach. When somebody asked about his first crisis as commissioner, he joked “shirt sleeves.” He’ll need that sense of humor in this job.

• A close loss to the Chicago Bulls last week shows the players on Philadelphia’s roster are still trying their best despite 20-some consecutive losses. Just remember: If tanking in the NBA exists, it’s in the front offices, not the locker rooms.

• If the Bobcats and Bulls were to match up in the playoffs this post-season, the rule of thumb would be “Get to 80 points, go home a winner.”

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