April 14, 2014

Charlotte Bobcats' Kemba Walker appears OK to play; Atlanta Hawks to sit three starters

ATLANTA – It sounds like there’s a strong chance the Charlotte Bobcats’ 11-game losing streak to the Atlanta Hawks comes to a close tonight.

            Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker (groin injury) went through morning shootaround fine and is expected to play tonight after missing two games.

            Meanwhile the Hawks plan to sit out three starters, as they have nothing tangible to play for tonight.

            Power forward Paul Millsap, shooting guard Kyle Korver and small forward DeMarre Carroll will all be out with various nagging injuries, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

            The Hawks have clinched the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and can’t get to seventh seed. However the Bobcats are still playing for seeding. They are currently seventh in the East, but could still finish sixth ahead of the Washington Wizards.

            The Wizards must lose at least one of their remaining two games for the Bobcats to have any chance to jump to sixth. The Wizards play the defending-champion Miami Heat tonight.

            However the Heat might not be at full strength. With the Indiana Pacers closing in on the top seed in the Eastern Conference, there has been speculation Heat superstar LeBron James might sit out tonight’s game. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra declined to say Monday morning whether James would play tonight.

            While it’s unlikely both the Heat and Bobcats lose tonight, that combination would lock in Heat-Bobcats as a first-round series.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 14, 2014 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

April 12, 2014

Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker out again versus 76ers

            Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker will sit out his second straight game tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers to rest a sore right groin.

            Since the Bobcats are off Sunday – coach Steve Clifford never holds practice the day after back-to-back games – this buys Walker two days of rest before possibly testing the injury in shootaround Monday morning before they play the Hawks in Atlanta.

            “Hopefully by Monday,” Clifford said of Walker’s return. “They did a (magnetic resonance imaging) and it’s not anything serious.”

            The road game against the Hawks is second-to-last of the regular season. The Bobcats host the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night, and in all likelihood the Bulls will be still playing for the third seed by then. They need to finish ahead of the Toronto Raptors to remain third since the Raptors’ Atlantic Division title is an automatic tiebreaker.

            Clifford said he’ll base Walker’s availability on how he’s feeling. However Clifford said it would be disadvantageous if Walker doesn’t play at least one more game before heading into his first NBA playoffs.

            The Bobcats gave up control of the sixth seed in the East by losing to the lottery-bound Boston Celtics Friday. Clifford’s displeasure with his team’s defense Friday was not lessened by a new day.

            “Last night we were pretty disinterested most of the game,” Clifford said of the Bobcats giving up 106 points and 52 percent shooting to the Celtics.

            “If we’re not defending, there’s no way we win in the playoffs,” Clifford added. “There’s no team we’d play that we’ll outscore.”

Posted by Observer Sports on April 12, 2014 at 06:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

April 11, 2014

Bobcats' Kemba Walker, Celtics' Rajon Rondo both out tonight

BOSTON -- Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker will miss tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics and could miss additional time while healing from a groin injury he suffered Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.

However, the Celtics will also be without their starting point guard. About a half hour before tipoff the Celtics announced Rajon Rondo is out with a bruised left shin. Rookie Phil Pressey was scheduled to start in Rondo’s place.

            Walker told the Observer at morning shootaround he injured himself late in the Wizards game while guarding point guard John Wall. Wall kept changing directions on his dribble, and Walker hurt himself.

            Luke Ridnour will make his first start as a Bobcat tonight, with Jannero Pargo the backup point guard. Ridnour came to the Bobcats, along with Gary Neal, in a February trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.

            Ridnour doesn’t play much as a Bobcat (13.3 minutes per game). Walker is 18th in the league in average minutes played at 36 per game. The Bobcats are 4-3 this season when Walker has been out. Those games occurred before the trade, when Ramon Sessions was Walker’s backup.

            Walker will be re-evaluated before Saturday’s home game against the Philadelphia 76es. But Bobcats coach Steve Clifford made it clear in his pre-game remarks Friday that his priority is getting Walker well for the playoffs, regardless of what remaining regular-season games he might miss.

            “I want him to be ready to go. I don’t know how serious it is or how long he needs,” Clifford said. “He’s got to be right for playoff intensity.”

Posted by Observer Sports on April 11, 2014 at 06:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker 'questionable' or worse with a groin injury

It sounds unlikely Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker will play tonight versus the Boston Celtics after he suffered a groin injury in Wednesday’s road victory over the Washington Wizards.

            The team is listing Walker as “questionable,” but coach Steve Clifford said at morning shootaround that’s probably optimistic. With just a week left before the playoffs, the Bobcats are more concerned with Walker’s health than whether he misses one or more regular-season games.

            Walker said he injured himself late in the Wizards game while guarding John Wall. Wall kept changing directions off the dribble and Walker felt pain while chasing after him.

            In Walker’s absence the Bobcats would turn to Luke Ridnour and Jannero Pargo versus Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. This would be Ridnour’s first start as a Bobcat after the February trade that brought him and Gary Neal from Milwaukee. Ridnour has played a bit under 14 minutes per game as Walker’s backup.

            The Bobcats were off Thursday, so Walker went to Connecticut to visit his alma mater. He hung out with Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier, who led the Huskies to the national championship Monday night, much as Walker did in 2011. Napier was a freshman that 2010-11 season and now there are frequent comparisons between Walker and Napier.

            Walker told New England media at shootaround how happy he is for Napier and what a good NBA point guard he’ll be. Then he joked about the similarities in their games.

            “He stole, basically, all my moves,” Walker concluded.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 11, 2014 at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

April 09, 2014

Bobcats' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on his high-school teammate's announcement

Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon, a high-school teammate of Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, announced publicly Wednesday he is gay, becoming the first male Division I basketball player to do so.

            Before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards, Kidd-Gilchrist released the following statement through the Bobcats:

“Derrick was a great teammate and is an even better friend. I admire his courage and willingness to share his story. Just as we supported each other on the court, I am proud to support him now. He is a basketball player, a teammate and a friend, and that’s all that matters.”

Kidd-Gilchrist, Gordon and Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving all played together at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. Kidd-Gilchrist went on to win a national championship in his only season at Kentucky before being drafted by the Bobcats No. 2 overall in 2012.


Posted by Observer Sports on April 9, 2014 at 07:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

April 08, 2014

Kemba Walker on Shabazz Napier: 'Best point guard in college basketball'

843-r2KC2.St.156Much as you might expect, Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker was ecstatic over the success his former Connecticut teammate, Shabazz Napier, had in Monday night’s national championship game.

Napier played as a freshman on the team Walker led to the national championship in 2011. They are remarkably similar in physical stature – both 6-foot-1 and about 185 pounds. They both are extremely difficult to contain off the dribble in the pick-and-roll.

So Napier has come to be thought of as “Kemba 2.0.”

Napier finished off his college career with 22 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists against Kentucky. He made eight of 16 shots from the field and four of eight from 3-point range.

Walker had the highest praise for him at Bobcats practice Tuesday.

“There are always going to be comparisons, especially since I played with him. I’m happy for him,” Walker said. “He showed he’s the best point guard in college basketball right now. I don’t think there’s anybody better than him.”

The website nbadraft.net has Napier going 24th overall in the June draft, which could be the pick the Bobcats will get from the Portland Trail Blazers. Whether the Bobcats would prioritize another point guard with that pick and whether they’d want another point of such similar dimensions as Walker are open questions.

Walker had a big time Monday night watching the game with Bobcats teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who played for Kentucky. Since Connecticut won, Kidd-Gilchrist agreed to be photographed in a Huskies shirt, to Walker’s delight.

“I thought we were going to win from the beginning,” Walker said of Connecticut. “The way they ran the game, they were super intense. Big energy. I had faith in them.”

Posted by Observer Sports on April 8, 2014 at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 07, 2014

Ranking the best day-in/day-out reads among the 30 NBA cities' beat writers

            I got a great question tonight on Twitter: Someone asked me who, in each NBA city, I follow.

            As in, “Which beat writer is a must-read in each market?’

With all due respect to some great people in this business, this is how I would rank coverage (relative to interest):

Blazers: Not close. Freeman, with help from Quick, etc, defines NBA coverage.

Bulls: K.C. Johnson is smart way beyond his years.

Raptors: No one works harder than Doug Smith. Period.

Spurs: Jeff McDonald-Mike Monroe team defines small-market kick-butt.

Cavs: Jason Lloyd doesn’t do this job the way I would – relies way too much on unnamed sources – but he’s daring and insightful.

Knicks: Frank Isola. He’s at a crossroads. Trying to be a TV personality and a beat writer at once.

Suns: Paul Coro defines the value of earnest. Listens. Writes insight.

Wizards: Michael Lee. Stuck covering a lousy franchise. Disseminates news and has an ironic sense of humor I hope fans get.

Miami: Ira Winderman. After all these years he never cruises. Wakes up every morning on a competitive beat and gets his share and more.

Brooklyn: Tim Bontemps. The rising star. He’s smart, he’s sensible, he finds actual stories. How can this happen at a tabloid?

Warriors: Rusty Simmons. A worker bee.

Bobcats: Rick Bonnell. Why would anyone have any use for that slacker?

Celtics: Steve Bulpett, although Baxter Holmes will be the voice of pro basketball in Boston if that’s what he wants.

Pacers; Constance Buckner. Huge potential.

Clippers: Brad Turner. I get the historical irrelevance of the Clippers. But Turner’s off-day stories tell me things other beat writers don’t.

Grizzlies: Ron Tillery: On top of what he does. Seldom gets beaten, offers perspective.

Rockets: Jonathan Feigen. Feeds a lot of masters in a half old-media/half new-media market.

Denver: Chrtis Dempsey: Should ask more tough questions, but a grinder with good reporter’s instincts.

Dallas; Eddie Sefko. The DMN’s cost-obsessed way of covering the Mavs probably keeps Eddie from doing his best work.

Lakers: It’s a Mike Bresnahan-Kevin Ding bake-off.

Sixers: Miraculously Philly still puts out great newspapers. Bob Cooney had a tough job slipping into Phil Jasner’s shoes.

Bucks: Charles Gardner tries so hard to write serious stuff about this franchise’s silliness. Been there.

Timberwolves: Jerry Zgoda’s sense of humor tickled me 25 years ago. Still does.

Thunder; Darnell Mayberry probably works way too hard – major-market team covered by a small-market paper. Not his fault.

Magic: Josh Robbins/Brian Schmitz have a tough mission, overcoming a franchise that thinks no answer is better than any answer.

Pistons: A dysfunctional franchise in a two-newspaper town. Doesn’t much matter who does it “better.”

Hawks: The AJC is so screwed up this is no judgment on Chris Vivlamore’s work.

Pelicans: Jimmy Smith is fighting a losing battle in a football town.

Jazz: Can’t remember the last time I checked either web site. Less their fault than the team’s.

Kings: Stuff happens.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 7, 2014 at 12:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

April 03, 2014

Bobcats roll out the paint cans for Al Jefferson's All-NBA campaign

The Charlotte Bobcats had some fun with center Al Jefferson’s All-NBA campaign, creating a “Big Al’s Paint” website to promote his in-the-paint scoring skills.

            The Bobcats released the site -- http://www.bigalspaint.com/shades-of-big-al.html -- to the public Thursday. Three media members from each of 30 NBA cities, plus various national media, vote between now and the end of the regular season on a variety of awards, including three center slots on the All-NBA team.

            Certainly Jefferson deserves consideration. He’s 13th in the NBA in scoring at 21.5 ppg., (ahead of all centers except Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins at 22.3) and ninth in rebounding (10.4 per game, seventh among centers). He’s the only player in the Eastern Conference to average 20 points and 10 rebounds this season.

            More importantly, he’s had a huge impact on the Bobcats’ 37-38 record. They are closing in on only the second playoff berth in franchise history and Jefferson’s low-post scoring has been crucial to recovering from a 21-120 record the previous two seasons.

            The Bobcats were looking for a creative way to spread the word on Jefferson’s accomplishments. So they created an on-line “paint store” motif that they will supplement with a press kit to potential voters.

            Among features on the website: Quotes from a variety of opposing players and coaches, an abundance of statistical comparisons and stories written by national (Sports Illustrated and USA Today) and local (Charlotte Observer) media outlets.

            Jefferson’s primary competition for one of three All-NBA center spots are likely Houston’s Dwight Howard, Chicago’s Joakim Noah and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, all of whose teams are also either in or close to qualifying for the playoffs.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 3, 2014 at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)

April 02, 2014

Charlotte Bobcats' Josh McRoberts out with ankle sprain; rookie Cody Zeller to make his first NBA start

With Josh McRoberts out for tonight’s road game against the Philadelphia 76rs with an ankle sprain, rookie Cody Zeller gets his first NBA start.

            Zeller came off the bench his first 74 appearances with the Charlotte Bobcats. Even when McRoberts was out previously this season, coach Steve Clifford had chosen to leave the No. 4 overall pick with the reserves and start veteran Anthony Tolliver.

            Wednesday Clifford changed that approach. Part of that was Clifford’s sense that Zeller was the better matchup with Sixers forward Thaddeus Young. But it’s also a reflection of Zeller’s improved play of late.

            As I wrote in this morning’s Observer, Zeller’s numbers are up of late. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/04/01/4810530/bobcats-rookie-cody-zeller-learning.html#.UzyHPj-PJMs

    Over his last 19 games he’s shooting 52 percent from the field after shooting 38 percent before that. He’s doing better at guarding without fouling, adapting to the speed of the NBA game, which is radically different from college basketball.

            That’s no small adjustment. Sixers coach Brett Brown was speaking pre-game about the difference between the college game and the NBA and he called NBA players “a whole other species of athlete.”

            McRoberts said he sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Monday’s comeback against the Washington Wizards. He was leaping to tap a rebound out to a teammate and came down awkwardly. He said he didn’t know whether he stepped on another player’s foot or not.

            Clifford said McRoberts is feeling better, but there’s no telling when he’ll be ready to play again: “It could be Friday (against the Orlando Magic) or it could be next Wednesday (versus the Wizards).”

Posted by Observer Sports on April 2, 2014 at 06:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

April 01, 2014

Bobcats' Al Jefferson NBA's East Player of the Month for March

Center Al Jefferson has become the first Charlotte Bobcat to be named an NBA Player of the Month.

Jefferson, the Bobcats’ leading scorer and an All-NBA candidate, averaged 24.7 points and 10.6 rebounds as the Bobcats went 9-7 in the games applicable for the month of March.

The span included a 38-point, 19-rebound game against the Miami Heat. Jefferson had nine games in March in which he reached a double-double in points and rebounds.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was named Western Conference Player of the Month for March after averaging 34.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

Durant has won the Player of the Month award for the West four of a possible five times this season.


Posted by Observer Sports on April 1, 2014 at 06:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)