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Playoff preparation
Bobcats end on a high, but coach isnít impressed
 
Published Saturday, April 19, 2014 12:47 am
by Steve Reed, The Associated Press

Steve Clifford wasn’t exactly singing his team’s praises after the Bobcats won for the sixth time in seven games.

PHOTO/CURTIS WILSON
Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker returned from a groin injury last week as they closed with seven wins in their final eight games.

In fact, the first-year head coach said he’s a little concerned about his team’s focus as the playoffs approach.

“We haven’t been the same team the last two games,” Clifford said. “Whether we exhaled after clinching (a playoff spot), or whatever it is, I don’t know. Whatever it is, we have two games to get it back.”

The Bobcats held on to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 111-105 on April 12 behind 29 points and 12 rebounds from Al Jefferson, but it was far from an impressive victory.

The win came on the heels of a costly loss at Boston April 11 that dropped the Bobcats back to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Charlotte (43-39) finished one game behind Washington in the race for the sixth seed. The Bobcats open the playoffs against No. 2 Miami on Sunday at 3:30 pm..

Jefferson said the Bobcats needed to find their mojo to close the season — they beat Atlanta 95-93 on the road Monday and beat Chicago at home in the finale on Wednesday. 

“I thought (the loss to Boston) would wake us up for this game, but I don’t know whether it was a back-to-back, three games in four nights or what,” Jefferson said. “... You could tell we were low energy. But we found a way to win, so that’s the positive side of it.”

You can’t blame Jefferson for the team’s sudden funk.

He has at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of the last seven games, a franchise record.

Luke Ridnour, starting in place of injured point guard Kemba Walker, had 12 points and eight assists in his first start for Charlotte.

Walker returned from a groin injury Monday night. But he expressed plenty of confidence in Ridnour to handle the role when needed.

“We’re organized when Luke is in there,” Clifford said. “He gets guys into their right spots. He has a high basketball IQ and he knows the NBA game.”

The same problem that haunted the Bobcats in their loss to Boston — poor defensive effort — hurt them early on against the 76ers.

Philadelphia took a 59-56 at the break despite the Bobcats shooting 62 percent from the field in the first half.

Charlotte would begin to take control late in the third quarter, opening a double-digit lead behind a pair of 3-pointers from Ridnour and Chris Douglas-Roberts and some solid inside play from Cody Zeller.

Jefferson is averaging 26.1 points and 13 rebounds over the past six games and he showed again why he’s an All-NBA team candidate.

Jefferson had his way early on scoring 21 points in the first half on 10-of-13 shooting. He used his old-school style of play to make defenders Henry Sims and Byron Mullens look foolish at times by getting them to leave their feet with pump fakes, leading to easy up-and-under layups.

“He’s got one of the best head fakes in the game, so it’s tough to defend him,” Mullens said.

 

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