The Charlotte Bobcats have little margin for error - and few healthy bodies - as they head down the stretch hoping to sneak into the playoffs and get a shot at the Eastern Conference’s top team.
Right now, they’re struggling to beat some of the conference’s bottom feeders.
After coming up short at home against the team that’s second-to-last in the East, the injury-plagued Bobcats face a near must-win situation when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers - owner of the NBA’s worst mark - Tuesday night.
Charlotte (32-44) tied a season high with four consecutive victories to close March, a streak that pulled it to within one game of eighth-place Indiana.
What was most surprising about that run was the Bobcats managing to win despite missing some key pieces. Tyrus Thomas(notes) played in one of the four victories due to bruised ribs and a sore knee, while Stephen Jackson(notes) missed one game and left halfway through the fourth win - 98-97 over Cleveland on March 30 - with a chronic hamstring injury.
The lack of personnel appears to have finally caught up with Charlotte, which is also missing guard Shaun Livingston(notes) and forward Eduardo Najera(notes). Thomas and Jackson missed an 89-77 loss at Orlando on Friday and also sat out versus Washington on Sunday, when the nine-man Bobcats couldn’t climb out of a 19-point third-quarter hole en route to a potentially crippling 97-91 defeat.
“We made a push and I commend the guys for that, but it’s a huge loss,” coach Paul Silas said.
Charlotte trails eighth-place Indiana by two games and has two in hand, but the Pacers own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep.
Jackson said Monday he won’t play against Cleveland, and that’s certainly good news for the Cavaliers (15-61). He had averaged 26.5 points in leading the Bobcats to four straight wins in the series prior to leaving last week’s victory early.
“If we get some of our guys back it still gives us a chance,” Silas told the Bobcats’ official website. “I just don’t give up. That’s not my nature and I don’t want it to be the nature of my players.”
The Cavaliers experienced an emotional high in their latest home game, a stunning 102-90 win over LeBron James(notes) and Miami last Tuesday, but they couldn’t carry the momentum to the road. Following the one-point defeat at Charlotte, they struggled defensively in a 115-107 loss at Washington on Friday and fell 123-107 at New York on Sunday.
Cleveland allowed the Wizards to grab 27 offensive boards - the most in the league over the past two seasons - and had a season-high 22 turnovers against the Knicks.
“It is always so hard to win with this team because we are so young and we have so many missing pieces,” coach Byron Scott said. “The other night it was offensive rebounds, tonight it was turnovers, it is always something.”
The Cavaliers seem unlikely to have similar issues Tuesday. Charlotte is the league’s second-worst offensive rebounding team with 9.9 per game and forces the third-fewest turnovers at 13.1.
If the Cavaliers can keep Tuesday’s game in the high 80s or low 90s, they should be in good shape. They’re 8-2 when holding an opponent to 93 or fewer points.