No one was expecting the Charlotte Bobcats to contend for an NBA Championship heading into the 2013-2014 regular season. A playoff berth seemed unlikely, but possible if things went the their way over the course of the 82-game season. So far, things aren’t exactly going Charlotte’s way.
Through 43 games, the ‘Cats have a record of 18-25, which is not all that bad relative to the last two seasons when Charlotte won a combined 28 games. However, the disappointing part in that record lies in the fact that the Bobcats cannot seem to get their whole team healthy for any stretch of games.
The injuries started from the very beginning of the season. Veteran center Al Jefferson missed almost the entire preseason, and then proceeded to miss nine of the first 12 games in the regular season. When healthy, Jefferson has been exactly what the Bobcats’ front office expected when they signed him to a three-year, $41 million deal in the offseason. As of January 22, the big man is averaging over 18 points and 10 rebounds per game and has demanded a double team on the offensive end of the court, opening up scoring opportunities for teammates.
After missing those nine games early in the season, the Bobcats were healthy for no more than two weeks before small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fractured his left hand. For a team built around playing strong defense in order to win games, the absence of MKG was a big blow for the Bobcats. Despite his offensive limitations, Kidd-Gilchrist was the leader of this team on the defensive end of the court and the Bobcats were a consistent top-five defense with him in the lineup.
During the roughly five-week stretch that Kidd-Gilchrist was out recovering from his injury, backup small forward Jeffery Taylor was expected to take his place in the starting line-up. Taylor is no slouch on the defensive end himself, and has a more expansive offensive game than MKG.
However, after just two weeks of Taylor in the starting line-up, the second-year small forward tore his left Achilles tendon. This injury required surgery and Taylor will miss the remainder of the season. As a result, Charlotte was forced to turn to veteran small forward Anthony Tolliver and also sign Chris Douglas-Roberts from the NBA D-League to take over the minutes at small forward.
For a team that is already fighting for their playoff lives in a weak Eastern Conference, losing your top two small forwards on the depth chart was a significant blow to the Charlotte Bobcats during the first half of the season. Fortunately, the Bobcats were able to tread water and hang right around the eighth spot in the playoff race thanks to the play of Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker.
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Walker was playing at an all-star caliber level during the first half of the season, averaging 19 points, five assists and four rebounds. More so than just statistics, Walker is the heartbeat of this team and has been for the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, in a game against the Miami Heat last Saturday, Walker sprained his left ankle and will miss the next 10-14 days.
To make matters worse, Kidd-Gilchrist had just returned from his fractured left hand and it finally looked like the Bobcats were going to get to play a significant amount of games with their entire core intact. Instead, Charlotte will go another two weeks without being a healthy team.
Without Walker over the next two weeks, all the Bobcats can hope for is to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Currently, Charlotte holds the eighth spot despite being seven games below .500 – a testament to just how weak the Eastern Conference is this season.
If the ‘Cats can get Walker back at full strength shortly, they will have approximately 30 games remaining in the season. If Charlotte can play those 30 games with their entire starting line-up together, something they have not done for more than 10 games all season, then there is absolutely no reason this team could not make the playoffs.
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