What got into Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Bobcats in a 124-94 blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers?
“My boss was out there tonight!” center Jefferson said of team owner and basketball icon Michael Jordan sitting next to the team bench.
And what effect does that have?
“You’d better run through a wall,” Jefferson replied. “He isn’t taking any less.”
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The last time Jordan appeared courtside (and also when he addressed the team pregame), the Bobcats beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, capturing what at the time appeared to be a key tiebreaker.
This time the Bobcats broke a two-game losing streak and reversed the score from the last meeting with the Trail Blazers. The Bobcats lost in Portland by 30 Jan. 2.
The victory made the Bobcats 34-36, extending their lead over the Atlanta Hawks for seventh place in the Eastern Conference to 1 1/2 games.
Coach Steve Clifford said before the game his team looked extra focused in morning shootaround. That was apparent virtually from tip-off. After missing their first two shots, the Bobcats made 11 straight to take a 17-4 lead. Never did the Blazers (45-25) threaten the rest of the way.
This was the Bobcats’ highest-scoring performance of the season, topping the 116 they posted several times. Jefferson finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists without even playing in the fourth quarter. Point guard Kemba Walker added 26 points and Gerald Henderson 23.
Jefferson, Walker and Henderson outscored the Trail Blazers by themselves through three quarters, 74-73
The Bobcats aren’t going to shoot 52 percent all the time and they’re usually lucky to reach 100 points. But they also guarded exceptionally well Saturday (holding the offense-heavy Blazers to 41 percent from the field) and limited their turnovers to five.
That was a big departure from a Wednesday road loss to the Brooklyn Nets when the Bobcats committed 15 turnovers and sent the Nets to the foul line 35 times.
“We remember the butt-whipping (the Blazers) gave us and we’d lost two in a row,” Jefferson said of the team’s approach. “Gerald was really into it tonight – locked in defensively, offensively and rebounding.”
Henderson said he has a lot of respect for Blazers counterpart Wes Matthews, so he expected a tough game. Henderson lauded the near-sellout crowd on a night when the Bobcats were giving out Kelly Tripucka bobbleheads as a Hornets-related promotion.
“I don’t know if they were there for us or the bobbleheads,” Henderson joked, “but they came out and helped us play hard.
“We’re not going to score this many points every night, but we always have a good chance if we’re playing this defense.”
Jefferson amplified Henderson’s point.
“Defense sets us up,” said Jefferson, who made 13-of-22 shots and befuddled Blazers center Robin Lopez. “But when we play offense like that, we’re dangerous.”