Knowing the long, hard road ahead of him, however, coach Bernie Bickerstaff isn’t getting overly excited at the prospect of getting off to a fast start.
“We would be 1-0, that’s all,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think we can put all of our marbles into we want a win. They might just be that much better than we are tomorrow night.”
Though Toronto and Vancouver both won their NBA debuts in 1995, Bickerstaff has good reason to keep his eye on the big picture.
Of the six teams added to the NBA since 1988, the best first-season record was 22-60 by Minnesota in 1989. Charlotte should struggle to match that, but has reason to believe it will be competitive eventually after selecting Connecticut center Emeka Okafor with the second overall pick in this year’s draft.
“To tell you the truth, I am kind of chill right now,” said Okafor, who led UConn to the national championship last season before competing for the U.S. team at the Olympic Games in Athens. “We just want to play hard and go out there and have a lot of fun and get the fans involved.”
While Okafor prepares to make his NBA regular season debut, he will be surrounded by an equally unproven cast. The first starting five in franchise history will be forwards Gerald Wallace and Okafor, center Primoz Brezec and guards Brevin Knight and Jason Kapono.
It will be the 10th start of Wallace’s career and the fourth for Kapono.
The Bobcats are expecting a sellout for their opener, and Bickerstaff is hoping his team brings its best effort on a nightly basis as they try to build fan support and excitement in a city that lost the Hornets to New Orleans two years ago.
“We are going to play the same way every day,” Bickerstaff said. “We are going to play hard. We’re going to have some good days and some bad days, but we’re going to compete.”
The Bobcats lost twice to the Wizards during the preseason, including a 126-125 double overtime defeat in their exhibition debut.
Washington will have just nine players in uniform for the opener because of injuries and suspensions. Kwame Brown, Etan Thomas and Steve Blake are on the injured list, and Brendan Haywood and Larry Hughes are serving suspensions for a fight during the preseason.
Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards’ leading scorer last season, served a suspension for a handgun violation in the season opener, but is expected back in the lineup Thursday.
The short-handed Wizards opened with an impressive 103-91 win at Memphis on Wednesday. Antawn Jamison scored 34 points, Juan Dixon had 28 and Jarvis Hayes added 20 and nine rebounds for the Wizards, who outscored Memphis 32-11 in the third quarter to take control.
Despite the impressive performance, Washington will be under a different kind of pressure when it visits Charlotte.
“The one thing I know from having been in this experience playing against an expansion team, there will be considerable agonizing for those teams who have to come in and play us because they don’t want to come in and lose,” Bickerstaff said.