The Bulls have won four straight games after a 1-3 start, but they'll face a surprisingly good Charlotte Bobcats team tonight at the United Center. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. Stay with us after the game for Bulls Postgame Live, where we show highlights, hear from the team and break down the Bulls' final game before their circus road trip begins Thursday.
There have been many surprises -- both good and bad -- through the first three weeks of the NBA season, and the Charlotte Bobcats' impressive start may top the list.
Their 5-5 record -- and subsequent sixth seed in the current NBA playoffs standings -- shouldn't be taken too seriously, as head coach Steve Clifford's group began last season 7-5, before losing 56 of their last 70 games to finish 21-61, the eventual second-worst mark in the NBA (Orlando, 20-62). Plus, their wins over Cleveland (twice), Boston, Toronto and New York mean they still have not beaten a team with a winning record, and are 0-3 in such games.
But what has made the Bobcats' early-season success such a surprise is that the team is getting after it defensively. Last season Charlotte ranked dead last in defensive efficiency, per ESPN.com's John Hollinger's calculations. Teams made better than 47 percent of their shot attempts and scored nearly 103 points per night, and perimeter defense was a struggle as teams made a league-best 38.8 percent of 3-pointers.
Early in 2013, the script has been flipped.
The Bobcats have faced high-octane offenses in Miami, New York (twice), Atlanta, and New Orleans -- all of which rank in the top-10 in efficiency -- yet still rank No. 11 in defensive efficiency, allowing 93.6 points (4th in NBA) and 44 percent shooting from the field (10th).
The free-agent signing of Al Jefferson was supposed to make the Bobcats a better all-around team, but the veteran has missed seven games with a nagging ankle injury. Instead, Bismack Biyombo has filled in at center, while the pesky Kemba Walker and rising role player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lead the charge defensively -- Walker ranks 15th in the NBA with 1.9 steals per game, and should finish the season in the top-5.
It shouldn't be all that surprising that the Bobcats are getting after it defensively. Clifford and Tom Thibodeau are good friends who both coached under Jeff Van Gundy in Houston. Tonight on Comcast SportsNet, two defensive-minded groups will battle for possessions and try to limit the opponent under 90 points, something Charlotte has done in four of its five wins to begin the season.
Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue. Stay with us after the game for Postgame Live, and join the conversation on Twitter with Bulls Pulse, using #BullsTalk to join the conversation.