CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson was reeling off the list of do's-and-don'ts when guarding Kobe Bryant: Make him take contested two-point jump shots...make him into a passer...give help without leaving other Los Angeles Lakers wide open...
"And jump after he jumps," Henderson said, referring to the points that put the Los Angeles Lakers up for good Saturday in an 88-85 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Bobcats (10-14) are doing a great job of placing themselves in a position to win games against name opponents. But with the exception of Monday's home victory over the Golden State Warriors, they're not closing the deal.
Saturday Henderson bit on a shot-fake with 37 seconds left, falling into Bryant for two free throws that put the Lakers ahead 86-85.
The Bobcats responded by posting up center Al Jefferson. He missed a 6-foot shot in the lane against Lakers big man Pau Gasol. Ben Gordon had to foul Gasol, who made two more free throws with six seconds left to establish the final margin.
This was the second night in a row the Bobcats went to Jefferson down low with the game on the line. Friday in Indianapolis against the NBA-best Pacers, Jefferson drove across the lane. The ball slipped from his hands as he put up a jump-hook. The Pacers escaped with a five-point victory.
"That's the play we want to run," Jefferson said. "I just missed the shot."
It was another frustrating night after near-misses on the road against the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Pacers. The new element Saturday was a surprising lack of free-throw attempts.
The Bobcats entered this game fifth in the NBA in average free throws attempted at nearly 27 per game. They got to the line eight times Saturday, one more than the fewest in the franchise's 10 years.
Amazingly Jefferson, who finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists, never took a free throw in 34 minutes.
"That's out of my control, I guess," Jefferson said.
Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker finished with 24 points and eight assists, making 10-of-13 from the field. But two of those three misses came in the last four minutes when the Bobcats gave up a six-point lead.
Building a lead has been surprisingly easy for this team -- double-digit margins over the Heat and Mavericks on the road serving as evidence. Protecting those leads is still dicey.
The Lakers have closers in Bryant (21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, plus seven turnovers) and Gasol (15 points and seven rebounds). Bryant might not soar to the rim the way he once did, but he's still a handful to guard late in a close game.
"When it comes down to the fourth quarter, and you have a perimeter player who can draw help from a second defender, that's a big advantage," said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford.
An advantage the Bobcats simply can't match right now.
(c)2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)
Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services