Bobcat Gerald Wallace blocks the shot of Cleveland Cavaliers' Drew Gooden during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday in Charlotte.
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Some words just don't pair well.
For instance, "Bobcats'' and "defense'' almost never go together without an adjective such as "lacking,'' "porous,'' or the occasional "putrid.''
But these days -- statistically, at least -- the adjective in that sentence would be "best.''
Three games into the season, the Bobcats lead the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, allowing 38.1 percent per game. Not coincidentally to that, Emeka Okafor leads the NBA in shots blocked, averaging 4.3 rejections.
Are the Bobcats really that good defensively? Yes and no. They guard better than ever before, as indicated by Cleveland star LeBron James shooting 3-of-13 Saturday.
However the job isn't finished defensively until a team gets back the ball, and that's the rub: Opponents average 16.6 offensive rebounds -- more than double the Bobcats' offensive boards -- and those extra possessions have been deadly in a 1-2 start.
"We've been really conscious (of defense) this season, in terms of spending time on the simple things,'' coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "We're trying to master (defending) the screen-and-roll.
"It's much better as far as making reads off each other.''
That's certainly true for Okafor, playing mostly center these days with Primoz Brezec out. He's not sure whether three games is long enough to pronounce this defense strong, but he knows if that's so, it's because the core of players is familiar.
To Okafor, defense is about familiarity and trust.
"It's knowing that it's OK to gamble, because if I leave my man, somebody else has got him,'' Okafor said. "We've had pretty much the same group of guys here (from the beginning). That allows you to get used to it, get used to it, get used to it.''
"It'' is a relatively simple style of defense. While the Bobcats double-team, they don't use a lot of gadgets, like constantly trapping the ball. They aren't stealing as well as they have in the past; in fact, opponents hold a 26-18 advantage so far this season.
But that's countered by a 24-12 advantage in blocks. Okafor has one more block (13) than the three opponents combined.
Bickerstaff always thought Okafor could be a superior shot-blocker at the NBA level. At first, he was reluctant to go after blocks because he didn't want to leave his man. Also, the defensive three-second rule meant he had to keep stepping out of the lane, so it was hard to play goalie.
Now something has clicked, and the coach is determined to keep it clicking.
"We always talked about him being a rebounder and the anchor of our defense with shot-blocking,'' Bickerstaff said. "Once you get that reputation, you're going to change a lot of shots because guys know you're there. It's like in football, when they talk about `hurries.' He'll hurry shots.'' IN MY OPINION Rick