The gesture was cute, but the result not so much: Late in the fourth quarter some fans started chanting “MVP!” as Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson stepped to the foul line.
Miss and miss. But that’s OK, Jefferson said following a 105-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets – he felt the love.
“Charlotte fans have been patient with me all season,” Jefferson said, referencing his early ankle sprain. “I think now they’re getting the Al Jefferson they knew was coming. They’ve been great fans.”
Those fans are being rewarded. This was the seventh straight victory at Time Warner Cable Arena. At 30-34 the Bobcats look headed to their second playoff appearance in franchise history.
Monday they got 26 points, 13 rebounds and four assists from Jefferson and 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds from point guard Kemba Walker. The X-factor was Gary Neal off the bench.
Acquired in a trade-deadline deal, Neal was brought in to prop up the bench scoring. He sure did Monday with 19 points off 7-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from 3-point range.
But it was the subtler ball-movement aspects of Neal’s game that coach Steve Clifford praised, noting how Neal found Chris Douglas-Roberts and Walker for baskets in the pick-and-roll.
Jefferson said it’s simple, really – Neal brings veteran savvy to a young squad in a playoff race.
“That boy can score and he can make plays,” Jefferson said. “He has experience – he’s been to the Finals (with the San Antonio Spurs). The kind of all-around player we needed.”
Neal was extraneous as a Milwaukee Buck and missed the juice involved in a playoff race. He and point guard Luke Ridnour immediately went into the rotation after the trade.
“It’s always a good situation when every shot counts,” Neal said of joining a team in a playoff race. “I was able to hit my first couple (actually his first six) and when you get in that groove, you get good shots.”
This represented a sweep of the Nuggets this season, quite a departure from the rest of the Northwest Division: The Bobcats are winless against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves. The T’Wolves are here Friday with the Bobcats two victories short of matching their longest home winning streak ever.
The Bobcats never quite shook the Nuggets Monday but – particularly in the first half – they did the thing you must against Denver: Limit the Nuggets’ fast-break points and the penetration of point guard Ty Lawson.
Lawson ended up with 24 points and seven assists. But holding the Nuggets under 100 was somewhat a feat: They had scored 107, 134, 115 and 128 in their previous four.
And the Bobcats apparently have an MVP candidate, which drew a chuckle from Jefferson:
“Never heard that. Not in my NBA career.”