Losses beginning to wear on Bobcats after dropping 13th straight game in Phoenix

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PHOENIX — Before the Bobcats lost yet again in Phoenix on Wednesday, the team’s head coach, Mike Dunlap, was asked to assess the mood of his club as it was dealing with a losing streak that at the time stood at 12 straight games.

“Hearty,” he said. “Good. Learning, because that’s the way we started. We never thought that we were going to start off and not have a stretch [like this]. Certainly we don’t like this stretch, but there’s a certain attitude with the staff and obviously myself, [which] is that we don’t skip a beat with our habits. Keep your habits right, and your communication fresh with your players. So it’s good.”

It appeared to be the opposite after Charlotte lost its 13th in a row to the Suns, and understandably so.

The Bobcats competed legitimately for only the game’s first 12 minutes, before suffering a second quarter scoring drought that ultimately doomed their chances. Charlotte fell behind by as many as 30 points to the Suns, on the way to a 121-104 loss that wasn’t nearly that close.

The vibe in the Charlotte locker room afterward was a somber one, with few conversations taking place and players, for the most part, sitting individually in silent reflection while searching for answers.

Dunlap understands the situation, that this is a process that’s more about development, and less about wins and losses in the immediate future. The challenge, of course, is conveying that to his players, the majority of which simply aren’t used to losing games like this on a regular basis.

“I think it’s just difficult in general,” Dunlap said, when asked if the streak is more challenging to get through while leading a younger team. “Losing, whether it’s one or a string of them, it does’t feel good if you’re a competitor. Plus, we have guys that have national championship rings [from playing on college]. So the identification is, as you recapitulate that feeling, that this is temporary; it’s not forever. But at the same time, are we getting better? And I think people that are following the trail and have watched us for the entire journey can say yep, that guy’s getting better, and that guy’s getting better. It’s noticeable, but we’re not getting our return, and that’s where the frustration is.”

The Bobcats have competed in at least seven of their 13 straight losses, including most recently against the Lakers on Tuesday, and against the Clippers, Warriors, Knicks, and Hawks — all above average teams.

But after a destructive loss like the one that the team endured at the hands of the Suns, the conviction that what the team is doing is actually working is significantly diminished.

“I think we played well as a group,” Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said afterward. “I mean, the fourth quarter especially, we played really well. I mean, there’s good things in this loss, too. It’s not all bad things that we’ll take away from this loss.”

As for the mood surrounding the team during this losing streak, the words MKG used to express the situation were essentially the polar opposite of what was being conveyed by both his tone and his body language.

“It’s a lot of positives,” he said, fairly unconvincingly. “I think it’s a lot of positives. I’m just taking it day by day.

“We’re just young,” he said. “It’s going to be all good down the road, so I’m not worried about it right now.”

Again, on a scale of 1-10, the believability factor in what Kidd-Gilchrist was saying was hovering around a negative-two.

Kemba Walker, while still clearly dejected over yet another loss, delivered his platitudes with far more conviction.

“We’re fine, man,” he said. “We’re fine. We’re a young team. We still feel pretty confident in ourselves, and it’s still a young season. We still have a lot of time. As long as we’re getting better, we’re definitely all just staying together. Good things are going to happen for us; right now, we’re losing but I think good things will happen for us pretty soon.”

After a game like Wednesday’s in Phoenix, there truly aren’t a lot of positives. The comeback mounted by Charlotte’s reserves came, again, after the team was down by 30 and the Suns had essentially already placed this one in the win column.

Dunlap knows that patience is key to a situation like this, but also knows that there will be some pain along the way as his team develops.

“We’re giving them a lot of time, but unfortunately wisdom comes after some nasty experiences,” he said. “There’s no doubt we’re teething.”

Dunlap is a veteran of the coaching game, despite this being his first chance at being the head man for one of the NBA’s 30 teams. He understands the process better than anyone, but some wins will need to be at least sprinkled among all the losses for the players to truly buy in, and trust the process over the results in order to continue to see real improvement over the course of the long, 82-game season.

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.

Russell Westbrook throws incredible halfcourt bounce pass vs. Rockets (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook had yet another triple-double on Sunday. The Oklahoma City Thunder star notched 13 assists in the loss to the Houston Rockets, 137-125, and one of them came on a nifty pass to teammate Victor Oladipo.

The play happened with the Thunder on the fastbreak early in the third quarter. Westbrook was moving from left-to-right across the middle of the floor with the ball while Oladipo streaked down the right wing.

With the Rockets defense collapsing, Westbrook reached halfcourt and fired a bounce pass that sliced through the opposition.

Oladipo finished with the clean dunk.

Still not sure it beats this one, but I think we’ll have to compare once the season comes to a close.