When this time of the NBA season is in full swing, most teams are just sitting back and relaxing in their clinched playoff seeds. 2014 has a different feel for lower seeds, especially the Charlotte Bobcats.
Charlotte is currently chasing the playoff position once in their grasp just a few days prior. After the Boston Celtics (Cats fell 106 to 103) surprisingly defeated the streaking Bobcats, the sixth seed was once again lost. A contest with the lowly Philadelphia 76ers might sound unimportant, but it was a whole different story as Saturday night approached. Steve Clifford and his boys need to close out the regular season strong, and winning all of 3 final games might aid them to regaining the sixth spot. Charlotte didn’t look like their recent dominating selves against Brad Stevens and Beantown, but even a 111-105 win over the Sixers didn’t please Clifford.
Kemba Walker was inactive for the second straight game with a sore right groin. With Walker out, this only meant that the team needed to strongly rely on Al Jefferson once again. What did “Big Al” do? He delivered once again. The 6-foot-10 phenom supplied his sixth straight 20-10 performance to aid the Cats to victory. The streak has been recognized as a franchise record.
The quiet Luke Ridnour started his first ever game in a Charlotte uniform in place for Kemba Walker. Ridinour, excelling in his first start, contributed 12 points and a team-high 8 assists. Walker is expected to return Monday night from his recent injury (according to Clifford). The former Milwaukee Buck clearly proved that he can handle the big role when needed. Though many shined bright, fans cannot look away from the Cats’ struggles early on in the ball game. Losing easy games like these, when seeding becomes so very important, is simply not accepted. A poor defensive effort significantly hurt the Bobcats in the first half, bringing back memories of the team’s defensive struggles just a night prior against Boston. This is one of the weaknesses that most likely angered Clifford after the game.
Philly took a 59-56 lead into halftime. This might be odd to many because when a franchise shoots 62 percent in the first half (like Charlotte did), it’s expected you would have the lead; that is exactly where the defensive struggles play in. Charlotte started to pull away in the third quarter, outscoring the 76ers 31-19. Ridinour and Chris Douglas-Roberts were noticeably strong from beyond the 3-point stripe. What it came down to in the end of this game is Jefferson’s unstoppable presence, primarily in the low post. Not many teams have been able to find an answer for his dominating nature inside the elbow.
Philadelphia had no answer to his 29 points,on 13-19 shooting. He just keeps showing why he is indeed worthy of being an All-NBA team candidate. Jefferson’s pump fake at times makes defenders look silly. When he fools defenders, making them leave their feet on the floor, his classic (and easy) up and under layup is achieved. Al’s phenomenal head fakes make it so much more of a struggle to contain constant post moves. Just ask former Bobcat Byron Mullens and Henry Sims how exactly they felt about trying to contain him.
– Gerald Henderson addresses the Bobcats home crowd before the playoffs begin
Philadelphia closed the lead down to four with just under a minute to go, but it wasn’t enough for the league’s second worst franchise to overcome previous mistakes. Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams added a near triple double in the defeat. The former Syracuse Orangeman dropped 23 points, 7 rebounds, and a game-high 8 assists (along with Ridinour). This was Philly’s 16th road loss in their past 17 games away from home.
The 76ers lost to the Cats just a week ago by 30 points. I applaud them for putting up more of a fight this time around, but coach Brett Brown realizes that falling behind in the third cost them a shot in this one. The fourth quarter fight was nice to see, considering losing seems to come first for this team. As the Cats won their sixth game in the last seven, Clifford wasn’t the least bit exuberant. Clearly, he is concerned with the team’s focus going into their 2nd playoff appearance in team history. The first year coach has noticed, like many, that the roster hasn’t been themselves in the past few games. Things like that are key to overcome when the postseason is just a short time away. Jefferson and other teammates thrived, but it wasn’t near close to a solid victory. Games with teams like the Philadelphia should not be this close.
Charlotte trails the Washington Wizards for the sixth seed by just one game. The winner of the race would go on to match up with Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors, while the loser with either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers; who are battling it out as the year of regular season basketball commences.
– The Bobcats are 18-9 since the All-Star break, including 14 and 6 in their past 20
– Al Jefferson is averaging 26.1 points and 13 rebounds over the past 6 game stretch
– 7 of 10 Bobcats scored in double figures
Daniel Carney formerly covered the Charlotte Bobcats for rantsports.com. He is the creator of Beantownbasketball.com. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_jcarney, subscribe to him on YouTube where he talks sports, and add him on Google+.