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Chicago Bulls 89, Charlotte Bobcats 87

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Al Jefferson strong, but not strong enough as Bulls nip Bobcats

With Kemba Walker out and no second scoring option, Charlotte comes up short

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/25/22/10/43bIu.Em.138.jpeg|269
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson (25) knocks the ball from Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. The Bulls won 89-87. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/25/22/10/1qOhpp.Em.138.jpeg|212
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford directs his team against the Chicago Bulls during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. The Bulls won 89-87. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/25/22/09/1cxLCH.Em.138.jpeg|402
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah (13) dunks against Charlotte Bobcats' Gerald Henderson during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. The Bulls won 89-87. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/25/22/10/qo7Uy.Em.138.jpeg|447
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Chicago Bulls' D.J. Augustin (14) drives past Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson (25) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. The Bulls won 89-87. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/25/20/42/D7Vnx.Em.138.jpeg|391
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson (25) shoots over Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

After another close loss to the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford was asked the inevitable “All-Star” question regarding center Al Jefferson.

“These last eight, nine games, nobody’s playing better than Al,” Clifford replied, after the 89-87 loss to Chicago.

That’s no exaggeration. Over the past nine games, Jefferson had never failed to score at least 20 points or grab fewer than eight rebounds. Unfortunately, with point guard Kemba Walker out with a sprained ankle, there’s not a reliable second scoring option night-in and night-out.

That meant 40 minutes into this game not one Bobcat other than Jefferson had more than seven points. They managed to keep it close at the end, with reserve point guard Jannero Pargo (15 points) hitting a spectacular 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. But the Bobcats (19-27) are still 0-3 this season against Chicago.

A big factor: For the second time in eight days, ex-Bobcat D.J. Augustin had a huge game against the team that drafted him. Saturday he finished with 28 points, 15 of them in the fourth quarter. He shot 6-for-12 from 3-point range.

In his first trip back to Charlotte, then as an Indiana Pacer, Augustin expressed some bitterness toward the team that rescinded his qualifying offer in the summer of 2012, instead signing Ramon Sessions. Since then Augustin was waived by the Toronto Raptors, but he’s reinvigorated his career in Chicago, with Derrick Rose out for the season.

It sure looked like something personal Saturday, the way Augustin tore it up against his former team.

“It’s always fun playing against your old team,” he said. “I know Gerald (Henderson). I played with him for three years, and just to go back and play those guys is always fun.”

But was he more juiced because the front office moved on from him?

“Not really,” Augustin said. “It’s a business. I’m with the Bulls now, and that’s all that matters.”

The Bobcats handled Walker’s absence well intially, winning their first two games after he went down against the Miami Heat. They have since been blown away by the New York Knicks and lost narrowly to the Bulls.

Though Sessions has done good things – he had a season-high 11 assists against the Bulls – Walker’s absence felt more consequential Saturday.

“There was a time in the fourth quarter when we couldn’t make shots,” said Jefferson, who finished with 32 points on 15-for-26 shooting and 13 rebounds. “They double-teamed me, and Kemba wasn’t there. It’s time for some guys to make a name for themselves.”

As for the All-Star thing, Jefferson said he’s made peace with never having gone. The way teams have had to defend him of late is validation enough.

“When the best coaches double-team you, that means respect,” Jefferson said. “That means more to me than that (All-Star) game.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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