Real basketball. Actual schedules. Not that day dream they released back when the league was still pretending they would push a full season. That schedule had the Charlotte Bobcats only playing one game before an audience that would reach outside their standard viewing area. Now, for whatever reason, whether it is the gathering swell of interest behind Bobcats rookie Kemba Walker or the tightened, shrunken schedule neccessitates looking outside of the Northeast and any team with 3 All-Stars, the Bobcats will find themselves on NBA-TV three times and TNT once.
We are 2 days from coaches and other team personnel being allowed to work with players. We are those same two days away from league business opening up. Trades, free agent signings, that ridiculous superstar at the end of a deal merry-go-round garbage, all begins in earnest on Friday.
It’s a time game right now. The schedule is out now and teams can start, after that free agency period and they get a team, to plan their year. The Bobcats are looking at two pre-season games, a home-and-home with the Hawks. That’s the way the NBA has laid it out for every team. They paired up neighbors. Milwaukee plays Minnesota, Orlando plays Miami, the Knicks play the Nets. Who knows what those pre-season games will look like. Not a whole lot of time or much to contrast in two games to try things out before getting into the stuff that counts.
To kick things off, the Bobcats will welcome the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, those Milwaukee Bucks that they battled for the final playoff spot to end last season (they both lost out to Indiana) and the same team that the Bobcats pulled off a draft day trade with. It will be the return of Stephen Jackson, in the first game of the year. Shaun Livingston will be there as well, so will Corey Maggette and Tobias Harris, who the Bucks took with Charlotte’s 19th pick. The player the Bobcats took with Milwaukee’s 7th pick, might not be available. That player is Bismack Biyombo and his buyout issues should be resolved on December 19th but they might not go the way he and the Bobcats want. I doubt he’ll figure into that first game even if he was fully available, but it’s another layer of interest in an incredibly intriguing opening game on December 26th.
The Charlotte Bobcats play their first 3 games at home, the next 3 on the road. Of the first 4 games, the Miami Heat are the opponent twice. It should bring folks in early. Between the return of Jack, Miami and third opponent, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic (assuming he, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Magic Johnson in1986, Oscar Robertson in 1961 and Wilt Chamberlain of the same year, form up to become the Super Friends before then), those first three games should set the Bobcats up for a full house in each of the first three games. If they aren’t all three sell-outs, it will be a serious symptom of Lockout-Hangover.
January becomes the month of back-to-backs. 19 games in 31 days, one set of back-to-back-to-back in the middle of the month, at Atlanta, home against Detroit and Golden State all on consecutive days, it will be a busy, difficult month. It’s nothing that the rest of the league isn’t facing as well. Some people are adamant that the season should always be like this. Compact, starting once football is winding down. Lots of people will also tell you that injuries and that horrible hanging, nagging axe hanging to strike at the wrong moment, fatigue, tired legs will cause the games to be sloppy. The product might suffer. People have studied the ’99 abbreviated season and said shooting suffered. It might not have been all lockout related, but with the crop of players we’re looking at now, I doubt you will watch the games and say something like “Oh man, these guys could have used a full pre-season and two months of warming up, along with a few more nights off.” It won’t look that different, in my estimation.
Closing the season on a high note, with a home game, on TNT against the Knicks, the Bobcats will hopefully be playing for a bit more than bragging rights. I am actually hopeful, now, so much more for that than I was when the “schedule” came out in August. I think I predicted something like 22 wins but with the lockout ended and everyone thrust into a season from a standing, or rather, sitting start, it evens the playing field a bit. That’s my hope anyway, because the Bobcats are a young team. The roles are far less defined on this team than almost any other season they’ve started out in. I saw Boris Diaw in a banner ad on the team’s website and that just sort of made me wonder, who is going to stand out on this team?
The season is generally the same for everyone. Some teams might get another one or two back-t0-back-to-back games, where the Bobcats only have one. Travel isn’t as big of an issue as it was years ago. Every city has good hotels, every facility is pretty good these days. The average NBA player today is far more prepared and athletic than they were back in that 1999 season. I’m not sure we’ll see anyone Oliver Miller or Shawn Kemp themselves out of the league after this lockout. The general feeling I get is these guys have been watched since they were 10 so they don’t want to be that guy. By the way, the average guy was probably somewhere from 10-16 when the last lockout took place, so they know the story and they’ll be ready on opening night.
The Charlotte Bobcats stand to have a successful season, both on the court and in the box office. When you look the schedule up and down, you don’t see anything that is shocking or extremely difficult. I am personally, probably irrationally excited that their national TV presence will be buoyed from where it stood in the Summer. I am incredibly pumped for regular season basketball at a frenetic pace come December 25th.