The Charlotte Bobcats, despite their success this season, rarely have been the main event in Charlotte.
From Oct. 30, when they opened the season, until Jan. 12, when the Carolina Panthers finished theirs, they had to compete against the local NFL team. Then they had to go against NFL free agency and the hourly rumors and the daily and weekly shedding and adding of players.
They had to compete against Carolina receiver Steve Smith, who began as a story but evolved into a saga. They had to compete against the ACC men’s basketball tournament and Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State’s forays into the NCAA basketball tournament.
But NFL free agency has slowed, the Smith story has almost stopped and the NCAA tournament will go on without teams from Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and the Carolinas.
And even though the NCAA tournament has been fantastic, and immediately will be followed by the Masters, the Bobcats’ time should be here.
They have only 11 regular-season games remaining, five of them at home. When the season ends the most likely scenario is that they open the playoffs in Miami against the league’s most glamorous team, the slumping Heat.
I think the slump ends as the playoffs approach.
Will Charlotte get excited about remaining home games starting Wednesday against Brooklyn, Washington, Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago and a best-of-7 series that could begin in Miami?
It ought to.
How many seasons have we turned on our television to the playoffs and watched other teams compete?
The Bobcats have made the playoffs only once, in 2010. They were guests. Seeded seventh, they were swept by Orlando. Charlotte was led by veterans Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, both very good players who would not be much longer.
This is different. They have a program now. If they make the playoffs, their rotation will feature players 29, 29, 27, 27, 26, 24, 21, 21 and 20 years old. The Mercer team that beat Duke is as old.
The Bobcats have potential, as their 30-point victory against a good Portland team Saturday attests.
But they can’t consistently beat good teams. Houston handled Charlotte 100-89 Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Rockets came with the same number of victories as the Heat and one more loss.
The Bobcats hung in; they trailed by five with 3 minutes, 54 seconds to play. But because of the wondrous James Harden, points came easily for Houston. Charlotte doesn’t score that way.
Coach Steve Clifford started talking to his players about the playoffs with 20 games remaining. It wasn’t as if the players didn’t know.
His message was to get in. And to improve as individuals and as a group. That sounds trite. But it’s not. In the playoffs, good teams become better.
Let’s say it is Miami. I’m curious how Charlotte will respond. I assume we’ll fill Time Warner Cable Arena. I also assume many fans will wear Heat jerseys. Buy a ticket, you wear what you choose.
If the Bobcats come to Charlotte down two games to none, how big will the first home game be? Will it be a game people talk about all day? Will it be a game that entices them to come downtown hours before tipoff? Will it be a game or an event?
I have no idea. We’re not accustomed to one of our major league teams making the playoffs, let alone both.
The Bobcats are better than they’re supposed to be. They have a star big man and a near star point guard. They work. They hustle. They play defense.
The deeper we get into spring, the bigger they’ll become. It will be interesting to see how big.