It took the Charlotte Bobcats 791 games to win three by 30 or more points. It took them six more to raise that number to five.
The 30-point home victory against the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers was a stunner. Wednesday’s 123-93 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers? Not so much.
The Sixers (16-59) are dreadful, and intentionally so. The front office gutted the roster at the trade deadline in apparent pursuit of an optimum pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The Bobcats went the anti-tanking route, signing veteran center Al Jefferson in July.
Jefferson continued to be the team’s dominant force. In 31 minutes he totaled 25 points and 10 rebounds, making nine of 17 shots from the field.
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His reward? He and the other four starters never had to leave the bench in the fourth quarter.
“It starts with me,” Jefferson said of taking charge of the team. “I’ve only been (to the playoffs) twice, but a lot of these guys have never been. I’ve got to show them the way.”
That mission is almost complete for the 37-38 Bobcats. By the team’s count, any combination of three Charlotte victories and losses by the ninth-place New York Knicks clinches the second playoff berth in franchise history.
However, the seventh-place Bobcats didn’t make up any ground on the sixth-place Washington Wizards, who won by 26 against the Boston Celtics. The Bobcats would have to make up a two-game deficit to the Wizards over the remaining seven games to get to sixth.
That’s not of primary concern to coach Steve Clifford, who says almost daily the objective is to improve over the remaining two weeks regardless of who they end up playing.
“A higher seed would be nice, but it’s all about how we’re playing,” Clifford said.
And how would he assess that Wednesday?
“The biggest positive was our whole approach,” Clifford said. “You could tell at shootaround we were focused with good intensity.”
Maybe that’s the lesson they got from blowing a lead in Orlando on Friday to a team headed to the lottery: The idea that a bad team has stopped trying this late in the season is a fallacy.
The Bobcats extinguished the Sixers with precision in the first quarter, taking a 31-19 lead into the second. Jefferson scored 13 points in that quarter on 5-of-8 shooting. Many of his best games are defined by such a fast start.
“It’s really nice for us to take care of business,” Jefferson said. “We took a step forward in maturity.”
Levity, too. Jefferson and third-string point guard Jannero Pargo have a running joke-fest after games like this. While Jefferson was being interviewed, Pargo interjected that Jefferson doesn’t pass enough. Jefferson’s comeback?
“Well, if I pass it to you, I get a turnover cause you’re on the bench!”
Might’ve been Jefferson’s best move of the night.
BOBCATS 123, 76ERS 93
Percentages: FG .532, FT .771. Three-Point Goals: 12-22, .545 (Tolliver 4-7, Douglas-Roberts 3-5, Ridnour 2-3, Henderson 1-1, Neal 1-2, Pargo 1-3, Walker 0-1). Team Rebounds: 10. Team Turnovers: 9 (8 PTS). Blocked Shots: 4 (Biyombo 2, Douglas-Roberts, Zeller). Turnovers: 9 (Zeller 3, Douglas-Roberts 2, Biyombo, Jefferson, Ridnour, Tolliver). Steals: 1 (Henderson).
Percentages: FG .422, FT .731. Three-Point Goals: 4-18, .222 (Williams 2-3, Ware 1-1, Thompson 1-2, Anderson 0-2, Carter-Williams 0-2, Nunnally 0-2, Young 0-2, Wroten 0-4). Team Rebounds: 11. Team Turnovers: 11 (10 PTS). Blocked Shots: 2 (Carter-Williams, Varnado). Turnovers: 11 (Young 4, Anderson, Carter-Williams, Sims, Thompson, Varnado, Williams, Wroten). Steals: 5 (Nunnally 2, Young 2, Sims).
Att.—12,136 (20,328). T—2:12.
Officials—Bill Kennedy, Steve Anderson, Courtney Kirkland.