Don't look now, but Larry Brown and the Charlotte Bobcats are on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history (OK, short history), and in Larry Brown's first year as head coach. OK, with a record of 34-40 we're not talking the greatest turnaround ever, but I certainly think Brown should be given credit for making them competitive, even if they don't end up making the playoffs (currently 1 game out of 8th spot).

Yesterday's home win over the Lakers (making a season sweep) proves that the Bobcats have improved dramatically. First and foremost, what Brown has brought to the Bobcats has been defensive consistency. The trade to bring Raja Bell gave Brown the kind of scrappy defender that he can depend on night in and night out to defend the opponents' best player, in this case Kobe Bryant. Here are a few great defensive sequences from the first half,

Raja Bell is a big reason for the Bobcats improved defense. But I wanted to highlight a couple of defensive tactics I noticed the Bobcats doing that most other NBA teams don't really do.

Pick up Full Court:

We know that full court presses aren't used much in the NBA because of the athleticism and unnecessary fatigue factor. But I like what the Bobcats do by putting token pressure on the primary ball-handler full-court. It's not really designed to increase turnovers per se (Lakers actually won the turnover battle 16-10), but it accomplishes 2 things:

1. Forces your players to be accountable on defense at all times
2. Dictates tempo

Defending the Inbounds:

You see this more in college, with teams like Tennessee and Gonzaga really putting pressure on the inbounds. But unlike the full court press, I think aggressive pressure on the inbounds is something that translates well to the pro level. Especially in the NBA, where a lot of teams take for granted that the ball will be inbounded,


Just some great quotes from an article at the Winston Salem Journal a couple of weeks ago about Larry Brown:

"We have values that we hope everybody understands about sharing the ball and rebounding. I think not everybody buys into it right away. For some, you demand a lot. And I don't let up."

Just ask Raymond Felton. Because few can see the court like Brown does, point guards often take the brunt of his rants, leading to his famous run-ins with Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury.

"It was tough," Felton said. "He was on top of me. He's still on top of me now. But it was just one of those things where he was drilling me, drilling me, drilling me."

But Brown acknowledged he backed off some when he saw Felton internalize the criticism. Bell believes it shows Brown has mellowed since he last played for him in Philadelphia.

"I used to try to treat (players) 1 and 15 exactly alike because that's the way I was taught with Coach (Dean) Smith and Coach (Frank) McGuire," said Brown, a 5-foot-9 point guard at North Carolina in the early 1960s. "I always thought it was really important for everybody on the team to be treated the same. Now I realize people are different, so I've tried to understand that."

The NBA is a league of stars and currently the Bobcats don't really have any. Nobody has any illusions that this team will beat a Cleveland or a Boston (they play tonight actually) in a 7-game series. But the Bobcats are one or two key free-agent acquisitions away from becoming a top Eastern Conference team.

If you are a Bobcats fan or Coach Brown fan, take a look at Larry Brown's DVD on Secondary Break and Pick and Roll Offense. Discuss this and the rest of your favorite basketball topics at the X's and O's Basketball Forum.