The Charlotte Bobcats have won six of seven and are on the verge of securing the second winning season in franchise history. Coach Steve Clifford, however, would like to see some better focus from his team before it heads into the postseason.
While hoping to get Kemba Walker back in the lineup Monday night, the visiting Bobcats will seek to avoid a 12th consecutive loss to another playoff-bound club, the Atlanta Hawks.
Charlotte (41-39) has finished above .500 only in 2009-10, going 44-38 before getting swept by Orlando in the opening round. The Bobcats secured its first non-losing season since then with a 111-105 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday.
Charlotte led the lowly 76ers by 14 with 6 1/2 minutes to go before allowing them to get within four with 1:44 remaining. The Bobcats were coming off a 106-103 loss to Boston on Friday, which ended their season-best win streak at five and denied them a season-high fourth consecutive road victory.
"We haven’t been the same team the last two games," Clifford said. "Whether we exhaled after clinching (a playoff spot), or whatever it is, I don’t know. Whatever it is, we have two games to get it back."
Getting Walker back from an injured groin might help. The point guard, averaging a career-best 17.8 points and 6.1 assists, has sat out the last two games.
His replacement in the starting lineup, Luke Ridnour, was one of seven players in double figures Saturday with 12 points and had a team-best eight assists.
Al Jefferson led the way with 29 points and 12 rebounds, a franchise-record sixth straight game with at least 20 points and 10 boards as well as his seventh consecutive double-double.
Jefferson’s performance helped keep Charlotte within one game of sixth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference. The Bobcats hold the tiebreaker over the Wizards, who host Miami on Monday night, because of their 3-1 record in the season series.
Jefferson, though, hasn’t been able to break Atlanta’s dominance over his team. The Bobcats’ 11-game losing streak to the Hawks is currently the fifth-longest of any team versus one opponent. Charlotte’s 16-game skid to Miami is tied for the longest, and the Bobcats may face the Heat in the first round if they remain seventh in the East.
Jefferson is averaging a team-best 16.7 points – 5.2 lower than his season mark – and 14.0 rebounds in three games against the Hawks this season. He had 24 points and a season-high 23 boards in a 118-116 overtime loss Dec. 28 in Atlanta, where he’s averaged 25.0 points and 16.7 boards in his last three games.
The Hawks (37-43) enter this game after clinching their seventh consecutive playoff berth and extending the NBA’s second-longest active streak with a 98-85 victory over Miami on Saturday.
Jeff Teague scored 25 points in his team’s third straight win and Lou Williams had 18 of his 23 in the fourth quarter.
"I’m happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving and getting better each practice," said coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team is locked into the No. 8 seed. "We want to build something here."
Williams had a season-high 28 points in his only game against Charlotte this season, the home victory in December. Paul Millsap has averaged 30.5 points in the past two matchups.