Charlotte Hornets

Bobcats’ Gerald Henderson calls Washington Wizards matchup “a playoff game”

The question hanging over the Charlotte Bobcats at practice Tuesday: How much would/should one victory over one opponent count above the rest?

The Bobcats play the Washington Wizards on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. If they win they would be tied with the Wizards and, by virtue of a 3-1 head-to-head record, clinch a potential tiebreaker.

That arguably makes this as big a regular-season game as any in the Bobcats’ 10-year history. That’s certainly how tri-captain Gerald Henderson treats it.

“It’s a playoff game. If we haven’t had one before, this is definitely playoff intensity,” Henderson said after practice Tuesday.

“It’s a team that is playing really well right now and is in our division. We’re battling them right there at six and seven (in the Eastern Conference). Obviously we’re more worried about how we’re playing going into the playoffs.

“(But) I’d expect it to be a playoff-intensity type of game.”

Not every Bobcat sees it that way. Power forward Josh McRoberts, likely back from a three-game absence with an ankle sprain, says it’s risky to start framing any one game in an 82-game season as singularly important.

“Obviously this is a big game,” seventh-season veteran McRoberts said, “but I think you’ve got to approach it like any other game.”

That’s the coach’s message. Steve Clifford has been wary for weeks of his players paying more attention to the standings than their performance. He raised that issue at practice.

“I told them if we’re worried about sixth or seventh place, then we don’t understand the playoffs at all,” said Clifford.

This is a team with limited playoff experience. Two of the three tri-captains, Henderson and Walker, have no postseason experience. Clifford, however, has extensive playoff experience as a Houston and Orlando assistant.

Walker took Clifford’s cue Tuesday.

“We’re not downplaying the importance of the seedings, but at the same time we don’t want that to become a huge distraction,” Walker said. “We had a big-time comeback win against those guys. I’m pretty sure that will be in the back of their minds, too.”

The Bobcats recovered from a 16-point deficit March 30 to beat the Wizards 100-94 in Charlotte. Had the Wizards preserved that lead they would have had a three-game lead over the Bobcats plus an eventual tiebreaker due to a superior record in the Southeast Division.

Like Walker said, that’s the kind of memory that can sting and motivate.

Clifford said his focus is getting the Bobcats back on track offensively. They scored 91 and 96 points in their last two games after averaging 111 in the previous four.

“The last couple of games we haven’t had nearly the same ball movement, the same pace up and down the floor, that we need in order to play well,” Clifford said.

Maybe that’s partially attributable to McRoberts’ absence. He’s among the best passing big men in the NBA.

McRoberts practiced Monday and Tuesday, although he sat out scrimmaging. He believes he’ll play against the Wizards.

“I feel pretty good,” McRoberts said. “I plan on giving it a shot.”

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