Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford said last month that he believes 7-foot rookie Cody Zeller, the No. 4 selection in the 2013 NBA draft, needs to work on developing the "functional strength" to be able to do battle with the sort of bruisers he'll have to face at the four and five spots on a nightly basis in the NBA. As we learned when the former Indiana star attempted to go up and over Detroit Pistons power forward Greg Monroe on Tuesday night, this remains a pressing need:
About as emphatic an at-the-peak snuff as you're going to see in an NBA game, made all the more emphatic by Zeller crashing to the court. I'm not sure if it's better than Mozgov-on-Gay, Oladipo-on-Lillard or Birdman-on-Blake, but it's certainly in the conversation.
Let this be a lesson, Mr. Zeller: You're going to have to come with something stronger than that if you want to beat a noted rim-protector who hadn't blocked a shot in two months, Cody. Next time, you're going to have to tap into that reservoir of fury you've built up after years of getting li'l-brothered by Luke and Tyler. That's right: You're going to have to go Diablo Cody.
Of course, Clifford and company might just as soon look another way the next time, choosing to bring something stronger in the person of world-eater Al Jefferson:
Any fears that the All-Star break would disrupt the monster run that Big Al had been on — he'd averaged 26.5 points on 54.7 percent shooting and 11.5 rebounds per game over his previous 15 contests — were allayed by watching Jefferson work over the likes of Monroe and Andre Drummond all night en route to a game-high 32 points, 12 boards and seven assists in 38 minutes as Charlotte earned a 108-96 win at the Palace. The seven assists tied a season high, with a handful coming on handoffs or redirects to reward hard give-and-go cuts by Walker and Ramon Sessions and two more taking advantage of all the defensive attention he draws to create open 3-pointers for Anthony Tolliver and Josh McRoberts.
Jefferson's ability to punish single coverage and give his buddies easy opportunities proved instrumental in keeping Charlotte's offense humming against Detroit's disorganized defense, as the 'Cats shot 52 percent from the floor. Point guard Kemba Walker kicked in 22 points, six assists and four rebounds for the Bobcats, who improved to 24-30, opening a 1 1/2-game lead over the Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, and now sit 1 1/2 games back of the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 7 seed. After notching a 10-point victory the first time they met this season, Tuesday's win in the front end of a home-and-home back-to-back with the Pistons ensures that Charlotte will win the season series with Detroit, an important tiebreaker that could loom large later in the season. From Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
This game had stakes. By beating the Pistons for the second time on the road, the Bobcats have clinched the season series and a potential tiebreaker to make the playoffs. They host the Pistons tonight at Time Warner Cable Arena in the last meeting of the season between these teams. [...]
Though coach Steve Clifford didn’t make a big deal of consequences pre-game, Jefferson was very aware of the Pistons’ proximity in the standings.
“This team is right behind us,” Jefferson said. “If they had beaten Cleveland (in the final game before All-Star break) we’d have been on the outside (in ninth place). Our guys knew that. We are ready and focused.
“It’s all about the playoffs, and this team is chasing us.”
The question, then, is whether a Charlotte team with Big Al in fine form has the "functional strength" to keep those chasers at bay. Better keep workin', Cody.
Video via Ben Golliver of The Point Forward.
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