The Charlotte Bobcats have gotten off to a decent start for the second straight season. This time, however, they're hoping Al Jefferson is the difference that helps them sustain it.
Charlotte will have Jefferson back Friday night when it hosts the Phoenix Suns, who have struggled on the road.
The Bobcats (6-6) were 7-5 to start 2012-13 before dropping 18 in a row en route to finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA.
Despite playing nine games without Jefferson - who has been dealing with an ankle injury after joining the club in the offseason - Charlotte has again held its own early on, going 5-4 in those contests after a 95-91 home victory over Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Kemba Walker scored a season-high 31 points and shot 12 of 20 after averaging 11.4 and 24.0 percent shooting in his previous five games. Charlotte also held a 52-34 advantage in points in the paint, an area in which it should be even stronger with Jefferson, who's averaged 15.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in three contests.
"We are capable of a lot and being really, really good," Walker said.
Walker has scored 22.0 points and shot 50.0 percent from the floor in three career matchups with Phoenix, though all were losses.
"We just have to be more consistent. Al is definitely going to help us a lot because he draws a lot of attention. If I can keep on having nights like this when he comes back it will be great for us," he said.
After a surprising start the Suns (5-6) have suffered four straight defeats, the latest a 113-106 home loss to Sacramento on Wednesday. They fell 107-104 on the road to the Kings a night earlier.
Eric Bledsoe, averaging a team-high 20.4 points, missed both games with a bruised shin and is out again.
Goran Dragic elevated his play in Bledsoe's absence, scoring a season-high 31 on Wednesday. Phoenix also hit a season-best 15 3-pointers, but it wasn't enough to overcome 17 turnovers that Sacramento converted into 20 points.
The Suns, 1-4 on the road, entered the fourth quarter in a 12-point hole after scoring 12 in the third.
They've been one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league with 17.4 per game, committing at least 15 in all but one contest.
"It's still early. It's not like it's March or February," said guard Gerald Green, who scored 23 for the second straight contest. "We are still trying to figure things out. We can easily lose four games in a row and we can easily win four games in a row."
One of Phoenix's primary strengths could be neutralized Friday. The Suns lead the league in fast-break points with 23.3 per game, but the Bobcats have limited teams to an average of 9.9 points in transition.
The Suns have won three straight in the series after sweeping the Bobcats in 2012-13.