Al Jefferson’s praise of Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden might have said as much about the Charlotte Bobcats as it did about Harden.
“He’s an amazing player,” Bobcats center Al Jefferson said. “Best one-on-one player in the game.”
The Bobcats have no Harden, and in the assessment of their coach, they shouldn’t perceive otherwise. The ball-movement was poor Monday, which contributed to 37 percent shooting from the field, which resulted in a 100-89 loss at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“I told them we don’t have a James Harden,” Clifford said of the player who posted 31 points Monday on a series of drives and pull-up jump shots. “We can’t be jab-stepping. If you’ve got a shot then take it. Otherwise, move it.”
Clifford kept using the term “sticking,” which is coach-speak for the ball spending much time in too few hands. The Bobcats put up 19 3-pointers, making only four. They were outscored in the lane 50-38.
This loss left the Bobcats 34-37, 2 1/2 games behind the Washington Wizards, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference. But, again, Clifford is less concerned with this team’s spot in the standings than how it is playing.
They looked nothing like the team that blew out the Portland Trail Blazers by 30 Saturday. They efficiently moved the ball inside against the Blazers, either for Jefferson post-ups or wide-open jump shots.
The Blazers can be spectacular offensively, but they don’t compare defensively to the 48-22 Rockets, who have the luxury of a tag-team approach at center. Dwight Howard is back from three games off with an ankle injury, again making Omer Asik the backup.
That allowed those two to commit eight fouls without either one fouling out (though Howard came close with five).
Jefferson finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but the Rockets made him work for it. Normally a fast starter in the first quarter, Jefferson missed four of his first five shots.
“You hardly ever have an All-Star center (plus) a starting center off the bench,” Jefferson said of Howard and Asik.
Clifford went a step further, saying Howard and Asik are arguably two of the seven best centers in the league. Combine that with Harden’s dynamic scoring and Chandler Parson’s jump-shooting and this was going to be tough to match.
There were 11 lead changes, but this game didn’t feel all that close after a 13-2 Houston run to end the third quarter. It didn’t help that Gary Neal, Charlotte’s best scoring option off the bench, was running around on a sore knee, according to Clifford.
Neal missed all eight of his shots, most of them bouncing off the front rim.
It also didn’t help that the Bobcats allowed the Rockets 21 points in transition 12 games away from a likely postseason berth.
“That’s playoff basketball,” Clifford concluded. “You don’t give up fast-break points.”