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.