Yes, they’re fourth in the Southeast Division and 1-7 on the road. And yes, the ’Cats score just 88.2 points per game (second-worst mark in the league) and were absolutely shellacked by the Celtics 92-59 the first time the two clubs met this season.
But this Charlotte team is not the same one that rolled over in Beantown on Oct. 28. It has won four straight, including a 35-point thrashing of Toronto and equally impressive 94-87 win over LeBron James and his Cavaliers. And the Bobcats’ defense over that stretch? Allowing just 83 points per contest.
What’s changed? For one, Larry Brown and Co. have added a couple of key pieces to the mix:
1. Stephen Jackson, picked up in a trade from Golden State for Raja Bell and Vladimir Radmanovic, has been rejuvenated. In seven games with the Bobcats, the 31-year-old swingman is posting 17.4 points, 3.8 assists, five boards and better than a steal per game.
He also seems simply more invested, averaging 40 minutes of playing time for a club stacked with young talent. The effort has shown: Since Jackson’s debut for the ’Cats on Nov. 16, they’re 4-3 and haven’t lost by more than seven.
2. Tyson Chandler has played the entire season in Charlotte but has only recently been healthy enough to contribute on a consistent basis (though now he’s dealing with back spasms). The 27-year-old gives Brown precisely what his club lacked last season: a 7-footer who can bang in the post. Per 36 minutes, Chandler’s averaging nine points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Those latter two stats point to a crucial element of Charlotte’s turnaround: It’s pulling down 42 boards a game thus far this season, out-rebounding its opponents by a margin of plus-2 — far better, by comparison, than Boston, Cleveland and Orlando, the East’s three best squads.
Beyond those two keys, the Bobcats are, more simply, buying into Brown’s system: Staunch defense, and limiting your opponents’ opportunities with a half-court-oriented offense.
Team stats tell that story. Charlotte leads the league in defense, ceding just 88 points per game, and ranks second in field-goal percentage allowed, at 43.3. At the other end, the ’Cats limit themselves to 76.6 shots per game, third-lowest in the NBA, and keep their opponents off the offensive boards, giving up just 9.6 per contest.
Those philosophies have been kicked into hyperdrive of late. Charlotte has out-rebounded its opponents in three out of four of their current four-game win streak, and out-shot them by an average of 7 percent.
Play defense, crash the boards, take smart shots.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Brown has paired Jackson with Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton in the backcourt. That one-two-three punch is averaging a combined 44 points, 20 boards and five steals per outing.
To be sure, this Charlotte team still has deficiencies. They’re a weak threat at best from 3-point range (28.7 percent, in fact), turn the ball over too often and remain a bit soft in the paint, especially when Chandler hits the bench.
But the Celtics must be careful when they visit Time Warner on Tuesday night. Charlotte is 6-2 in that arena and outscores opponents by better than six points there. This isn’t Oct. 28. If Boston thinks it is, it’ll likely see just how dangerous this Bobcats club has become.