It has taken a coach with a modest CV to turn the fortunes around of a young team with a poor record, writes Steve Dilbeck.
All about respect for the Charlotte Bobcats
There they are, a modest third in the NBA's Southeast Division. Owners of a 7-5 record. Nothing too spectacular for the Charlotte Bobcats, except …
- The seven victories already match their total from last season.
- The Bobcats finished 2011/12 on a 23-game losing streak.
- Their final record, 7-59, was the worst in the NBA and their 10.6 winning percentage was the worst in league history.
Few anticipated this flirtation with respectability, let alone a winning record.
They did not sign a superstar. They did not hire a famous coach. The roster was not massively overhauled.
Yet, they are winning. If the season ended today, they would make the play-offs for only the second time in their eight-year existence.
"We are trying to go from the losing-est organisation in NBA history to an establishment where people have to respect us," said Mike Dunlap, the Bobcats coach. "I don't know anything about wins, but I do know about respect."
Dunlap, 55, was hired in June following last season's debacle. He arrived with a marginal NBA pedigree - two seasons as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets.
His experience leading a team was limited to a pair of small US universities, California Lutheran and Metro State, in Denver, and a semi-professional team in Australia.
However modest his CV, Dunlap has the Bobcats in the midst of an amazing turnaround. They play defence, have hiked their scoring average by 10 points per game, to 97, and are gaining confidence that they can be competitive night after night.
On Saturday, Charlotte became the quickest team in NBA history to match their previous season's win total with a 108-106 victory against Washington in double overtime. "We have some fight in us now," said Byron Mullens, a forward.
Mullens is one of six Bobcats averaging more than 10 points per game. The second-year guard Kemba Walker leads the team at 18 points and six assists per game. Ramon Sessions, who failed with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, is averaging 17.2 points and Ben Gordon 12.7. Both Sessions and Gordon are reserves.
Despite their record, the Bobcats did not win the NBA draft lottery but took the forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Like many rookies, he has been inconsistent, but is averaging 11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Balance and a productive bench have been vital to their rise to the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference. "We've learnt that we're a team that has to get wins like this," Walker said on Saturday. "You got to fight hard. You have to play hard every night. That's what we do; different guys just step up."
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