Now Al Jefferson says he’s glad he didn’t make the All-Star team. Odd as that sounds, he makes a certain pragmatic sense.
“I got four days off to rest,” said the Charlotte Bobcats center, who dominated the Detroit Pistons for the second straight night in a 116-98 home victory.
Jefferson posted 32 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday against the Pistons, the team most closely chasing the Bobcats for the final playoff spot in the East. Jefferson followed upWednesday with 29 and eight.
Teammate Jannero Pargo cackled at Jefferson saying he’s glad the East coaches overlooked him. But Jefferson looked fresh and focused the past two nights, and sweeping the Pistons (22-32) could be far more consequential than whether Jefferson got to spend the weekend in New Orleans.
So said point guard Kemba Walker, who finished Wednesday with 25 points and a career-high 16 assists.
“I’m pretty sure he’s used to this,” Walker said of Jefferson being overlooked.
“I’m glad he didn’t make it,” Walker joked. “He got some rest and he’s fresh…He’s the best player I’ve ever played with.”
Since Walker returned from that ankle sprain, the Bobcats are 4-2. They’re the best they’ve been offensively, playing inside-out through Jefferson in the post. When teams go to extremes to defend Jefferson, Walker takes over in the pick-and-roll. That’s what happened in the second half, with Walker scoring 18 points off 13 shots and adding seven assists.
This synergy took a while, after Jefferson missed much of the early season with an ankle sprain. Now it’s the norm for Jefferson to reach or exceed 30 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’re all getting acclimated to playing with Al,” Walker described. “It took a while. Now we’re not just playing with him, we’re playing off him.”
The Pistons had no answer for that. This game was decided in the third quarter, when Jefferson made 6-of-8 from the field for 12 points. Neither center Andre Drummond, nor power forward Greg Monroe could do anything to keep Jefferson from his favored spots on the floor.
Playing back-to-back games against an opponent so close to you in the standings, right at the fringe of the last playoff spot, can create a lot of pressure. But for the Bobcats it created opportunity. This might have been the best back-to-back performance of the season and made for a 3-0 sweep of the season series.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford says team chemistry doesn’t come by accident. Jefferson says he saw the right vibes from even before training camp when so many new teammates showed up for voluntary workouts.
That carried over to the end of All-Star break.
“It was really important we win these games,” Jefferson said. “We had a good practice, we had a good shootaround, we had a good walk-through today. That matters.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell