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Busy Bobcats prepare for slowdown

Bobcats Nuggets Basketball
David Zalubowski - AP
Center Al Jefferson has scored at least 30 points in four of Charlotte’s past five games.

OAKLAND, Calif. – Until now the Charlotte Bobcats have had one of the NBA’s busiest schedules. It’s about to get slow. Real slow.

Upon returning from the most successful West Coast trip in franchise history (3-1), the Bobcats play one game in six days (at home Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs). With the All-Star break coming up, the Bobcats play just three games over 13 days.

That is a dramatic change for a team that has already played 50 of its 82-game schedule.

“I think that right now we’re tied for most games in the league. Pretty sure most back-to-backs,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said.

“For our team, because we have a lot of young guys, the practice days will be good for us. We’ve been a lot better with a day to prepare, particularly with our defense. As a staff, we’re always talking about what we need to get better at. This is our chance to address those things.”

The Bobcats just got back point guard Kemba Walker after two weeks off with an ankle sprain, so they’re relatively healthy. They’re in the Eastern Conference playoff race this late in the season for just the second time in franchise history.

Some rest and fine-tuning could be valuable, just so long as they don’t get rusty. Clifford worries about that aspect of this break.

“(Another) five days off after the All-Star break (Feb. 22-27) is bad for the players because they need to play in rhythm,” Clifford said.

“After the five days off, it’s two weeks of not only playing every other day but it’s home-away-home-away. Everybody goes through it, but from now until the third week in March it’s a demanding stretch.”

Indeed. There is a run in late February/early March that looks like the team’s toughest span ever: Over six days the Bobcats will play road games against the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, then come home to play the Indiana Pacers. To win any of those games will be a challenge.

So Clifford and his assistants are looking to reload over the next few days to get them ready for the last 32 games and a possible postseason appearance.

“Even in these hectic days, we’ve taken time to add to our post defense,” Clifford said. “When you’ve played 50 games, it’s not like you can (practice) three hours a day. It’s got to be short – two or three things (emphasized). This will give us time to work on (weaknesses).”

Jefferson’s agenda: Bobcats center Al Jefferson’s performances of late have bordered on absurd: He reached 30 points and 10 rebounds in three of the four games out west. The only time he failed to do so – in Phoenix – coincided with the Bobcats’ only loss during the stretch.

Jefferson volunteered after Tuesday’s victory against the Golden State Warriors that the team had a special sense of urgency.

“We believed before we left Charlotte that this was going to be a trip that was either going to break us or help us,” Jefferson said. “We feel this could have been the turning point for the season.”

Clifford said the dramatic difference in Jefferson these past two weeks has been his relative health after a preseason ankle sprain.

“Al, there are not many guys like him,” Clifford said. “He can pivot off both feet with great balance. He fakes off different angles. And he scores from all kinds of different angles.”

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