CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If the Bobcats are going to take a step forward this season they’re going to need some big plays and strong shooting from point guard D.J. Augustin.
So far, so good.
Augustin scored a team-high 19 points in the Bobcats’ 96-95 win over the Bucks in Monday night’s season opener, including a driving layup that put his team ahead for good with 36.5 seconds left.
It was a quality win for the young and rebuilding Bobcats.
But the NBA can be a grind, even in a 66-game season, and Augustin and his teammates know they’ll face a much stiffer test when LeBron James and the Miami Heat come to town on Wednesday night.
“I watched them play on Christmas and they look like they have a chip on their shoulder,” Augustin said. “We know they have a great team, so we have to come in and play hard like we did (against the Bucks).”
Added coach Paul Silas of the Heat: “They’re just so talented it’s unbelievable.”
Silas said he expects to have Augustin available for the game.
Augustin sprained his left ankle in the final minute of Monday night’s game while chasing after a loose ball near midcourt. He’s had problems with the ankle before. He didn’t practice Tuesday but Silas said, “he thinks he might be able to make it (Wednesday) night.”
But the Bobcats have to be careful.
Even with backup Kemba Walker looking like the real deal, the Bobcats need Augustin for the long run.
After a rough start as a rookie, Augustin’s turnaround as a player coincided with the arrival Silas last December.
Under former coach Larry Brown, Augustin was timid and often afraid to shoot. Then Silas arrived.
“Playing for coach Brown, I was looking over my shoulder because I didn’t want to make a mistake,” Augustin said. “He’s still a great coach and taught me a lot of fundamentals. But with coach Silas, he gives you that chance to be free and make plays.”
That was never more evident than in a game last season against Minnesota.
Augustin was having a horrible night shooting from the field, and Silas noticed he was starting to pass up open shots.
So Silas called a timeout.
When Augustin got the sideline, Silas looked him in the eyes and gave the 6-foot point guard a lesson he’s never forgotten.
“I brought him over to the bench and I said, `Son, if you ever pass up another shot I’m going to take you out of the game and I’m not going to play you at all,'” Silas said. “I told him, `Listen, every time you get the ball, I want you to shoot it.'”
Augustin did just that, making his next couple of shots.
He’s not stopped shooting since.
“The fact that I had some confidence in him just seemed to open up a whole new world for him,” Silas said.
Augustin’s average went from 12.6 points to 14.4 at the end of the season.
“Paul gave me a lot of confidence,” Augustin said. “Paul is such a positive coach, such a positive person that he makes you believe in yourself. When you walk out on the court, you feel like every shot is going in. You’re able to learn from your mistakes. You’re not going to be perfect and he knows that.”
Augustin thinks there’s something about Silas’ laid-back demeanor that meshes with his personality.
“I think it is just how he talks and speaks to you,” Augustin said. “He shows everybody that same respect. He’s so positive. If you miss a shot, he’ll tell you, `Hey, it’s OK, keep shooting.’ That makes you want to keep shooting.”
That includes in big games against the Heat.
Silas said this game will serve as a measuring stick for the Bobcats and just how far they’ve come and how far they have to go.
“I’d like to see how we do against a team like that,” Silas said. “Can we stay competitive and not get blown away? I think if we do that we will have a chance to really improve. But it’s tough to keep a team like that down.”