Hawks-Bobcats Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 22, 2012
Already the biggest surprise of the young season, the Charlotte Bobcats believe this is only the beginning. The Bobcats will try to record their best start in the nine-year history of the franchise and match their entire win total from last season on Friday night when they host the Atlanta Hawks. Just one season removed from finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history at 7-59, Charlotte (6-4) has enjoyed a stunning turnaround, winning five of six after a three-game skid. The Bobcats also started 6-4 during the 2007-08 season. "We're trying to build a winning culture here, and every win helps,'' first-year coach Mike Dunlap said. While it took Charlotte 40 games to reach six wins last season, Dunlap's club captured its sixth victory already Wednesday night, when Ramon Sessions hit a go-ahead 16-footer with 28 seconds left to beat Toronto 98-97. Kemba Walker had 19 points and seven assists, while Sessions and rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist each had 14 points. Walker and Sessions have both scored in double figures in all 10 games. Walker leads the team with 18.8 points and 5.5 assists per game. ''He's setting the culture for us," Dunlap said. "There's a lot on his plate, but he can handle it." The Bobcats have stepped up defensively during their hot streak, holding opponents to 91.5 points in that six-game span. They rank among the league's top ten in steals (86) and blocked shots (76) and are forcing 14.6 turnovers per game. Charlotte put together an impressive defensive stand with two blocks in the final seconds of Wednesday's win, running its record to 5-0 in games decided by four points or fewer. ''I think our defense is getting better and I'm selling that first and foremost,'' Dunlap said. ''It's far from where it needs to be but it's getting there and we have the numbers to prove that.'' Reaching that landmark seventh victory might not be easy for the Bobcats, with the Hawks (6-4) having won three straight and four of five. They did, however, need, a 3-pointer from Kyle Korver with 1.9 seconds left in overtime on Wednesday night to get past winless Washington 101-100. Josh Smith led Atlanta with season highs of 25 points and 12 rebounds, Korver added five 3-pointers and Al Horford had 15 points, a career-high 10 assists and nine boards. The Hawks, who rank fifth in the NBA in scoring defense (92.1), will try to hold an opponent under 100 points through regulation for a 10th straight game. It could happen against a Bobcats team that shoots 42.2 percent from the field and is 29th in the league with 47 3-pointers. Atlanta will likely need a better performance on the boards after getting outrebounded 58-37 by the Wizards. Rebounding, though, has been an issue all season for the Hawks, who rank 26th in the NBA with 39.9 per game. "We know we have to go down there and be prepared," assistant coach Lester Conner said. "A lot of people have been going down there and taking (Charlotte) for granted, so we can't allow that." Atlanta has averaged 112.3 points in winning the last four meetings, including three straight victories by 20 or more points.
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