Here’s all you need to know about the importance Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford placed on Friday night’s home matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Clifford asked team owner Michael Jordan to give a pregame speech. When you play the “icon” card, you’re pulling out all the stops.
“If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will,” said center Al Jefferson, who finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the 101-92 victory.
Obviously Friday had stakes. The win made the Bobcats 3-0 this season against the Cavs, who are chasing them for one of the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The Bobcats now own tiebreakers over both the Cavs and the Detroit Pistons, based on head-to-head matchups.
The Bobcats are 29-33, 5 games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons (24-38) and 51/2 in front of the 10th-place Cavaliers (24-39).
They’ve won six straight at home over some impressive competition, including the Pacers, Grizzlies and Mavericks, all contenders to make the playoffs.
Clifford said the Bobcats should view themselves as a playoff roster, not just some team slipping in through a crack in the wall.
“It’s time to start talking about playoffs,” Clifford said. “Not just qualifying, but getting our games together for the playoffs.”
After the Bobcats went 28-120 the past two seasons, that’s heady stuff. But it’s what Jefferson expected when he signed as a free agent in July, giving the Bobcats the first dominant scorer in franchise history.
“Now we’ve got to turn it on and keep it on,” Jefferson said. “Be locked in. (Clifford) shouldn’t have to call timeouts to correct things we discussed in shootaround.”
The Bobcats weren’t on point in the first half, giving up 55 percent shooting to Cleveland and 26 points in the paint.
But they kept a grip on the game in the second half against a team that needed the win more.
Point guard Kemba Walker had one of his best all-around games, with 20 points and 14 assists.
Walker has been a distributor of late, a process that started in the summer when Clifford showed him a series of plays Walker ran last season in the pick-and-roll.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Why don’t I make more passes?’ ” Clifford said.
Walker was asked Friday if the Bobcats feel like a playoff team.
“I feel at times like we don’t feel like we’re a playoff team,” Walker said. “And we should.”
Changing that self-perception might have been part of the value of Jordan’s presence in the locker room: The Hall of Famer drawing something more out of a group that has been beaten down over the previous two seasons.
“He told us he was proud of us,” Jefferson said. “But don’t be happy with what you’ve already done.”
BOBCATS 101, CAVALIERS 92