Playing the Field: Pro teams keep fans busy

Match-ups from across the Carolinas

by Jon Hoppel  Contributing Writer  
Published: January 3, 2014 in Playing the Field

As the year came to an end, most if not all of our local sports teams are taking a break for the holiday season. So, let us take a look at the Carolinas’ professional sports teams seasons thus far.

Football

The Carolina Panthers have maintained their momentum from the end of last season, winning 5 of their last 6 games, including four wins in a row to finish. Despite their 7-9 record, that last season surge gave hope to a frustrated fan base here in the Carolinas, hungry for Cam Newton and the rest of the team to make the leap to a title contender. So far, it looks as though the Panthers have answered the bell, getting out to a 10-4 record despite having the NFL’s toughest schedule, including road wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins, as well as perennial Super Bowl contenders, New England Patriots at home.

The heart of the team is their defense, which is lead by Luke Kuechly, who is having an Defensive MVP-type season. Out of 14 games so far, the Panthers have held opposing teams under 20 points in 11 of them and has resulted in the team becoming the number one ranked defense in the NFL by allowing the fewest average yards a game. If the team is able to maintain that type of stinginess, and Cam Newton, Steve Smith, D’Angelo William and the rest of the offense can remain consistent, they will be formidable foe heading into the playoffs, and a darkhorse pick to win the title.

Basketball

The Charlotte Bobcats, (soon to be Hornets), have surprised many pundits and even fans with their good start. They have earned big wins over top teams such as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, while losing close, tight games to the NBA’s elite teams like the Heat, Clippers, and Pacers. Kemba Walker has proved that he can be a dominant late game scorer when the occasion arises while averaging nearly 18 points a game. The team’s big off-season signing, Al Jefferson, has been reliable post presence, despite missing games with a few injuries. Gerald Henderson has shown glimpses as a shutdown defender in the absence of Michael Kidd-Gilcrist, who went down earlier this year with a broken wrist. Once he returns, the team will have two athletic wingmen that can defend almost any position on the court. Hovering around 500 most of the season so far, Charlotte is poised to make the playoffs in the lackluster Eastern Conference if they can maintain their current pace.

hornets_logosBobcats reveal new Hornets branding

The Charlotte Bobcats revealed new logos for the returning Charlotte Hornets at a game in Charlotte on Dec. 21. Team owner Michael Jordan was on hand for the reveal, which included several logo variations, including a new playful logo specifically for Hugo, the Hornets’ mascot.

Hockey

The Carolina Hurricanes look to be in a similar situation as the Bobcats, hovering around 500 and trying to make the playoffs. The team is currently in fourth place in the metropolitan division, which barely sneaks them into the post season. Eric Staal is once again providing excellent leadership and prolific scoring by leading the team in assists and is second in goals. Jeff Skinner has also played well this season, netting 12 goals so far, which is good enough for 31st best. But, the trademark of the team thus far has been goalkeeping. Justin Peters and Cam Ward have split time in the net for the Hurricanes and both have averaged over 90 percent save percentage. Peters’ average of .929 is good enough for 6th best in the entire NHL.

The Hurricanes have been up and down all season, but to make the playoffs, consistency needs to be the name of the game from here on out because Carolina has four teams within 1 point of them as they near the mid-season point.

Next month, we will be back to previewing the spring seasons for your local sports teams, including rugby, roller derby, bowling, softball, and tennis! : :