While the Charlotte Bobcats haven’t defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in almost three years, Al Jefferson may be able to get them over the hump Friday night.
Not having to face Kobe Bryant should also help their cause.
The Bobcats try to snap a five-game losing streak against the Lakers, who are on the verge of yet another six-game skid.
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Jefferson has been on a tear of late, averaging 26.9 points and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 55.7 percent over the last 10 games. He scored 11 of his season high-tying 35 points in the fourth quarter and added 11 boards as Charlotte (20-27) opened a four-game trip Wednesday with a 101-98 win at Denver.
"I’m getting healthy, I’m getting there. I’m probably at about 85-90 percent right now," said Jefferson, who missed nine of the first 12 games with a sprained ankle. "I’m working towards to get to 100 percent. I have to be able to do it both on both ends. That’s the only way this team is going to have a chance at success is if I play at a high level."
Jefferson has scored 22 or more points in nine straight contests. The Bobcats are 11-5 when he reaches that mark compared to 4-18 when he doesn’t.
"He is scoring and then we are also scoring off him," coach Steve Clifford said. "His effect on his teammates is good."
Jefferson was held in check during an 88-85 loss to the Lakers on Dec. 14, posting 14 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Bryant, whose 28.2 points per game in 17 lifetime contests versus Charlotte are his most against any team, totaled 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in that victory.
While the Lakers (16-30) also went on to win two of their next three games, they have since dropped 17 of 20, enduring two season-worst six-game losing streaks Dec. 21-31 and Jan. 5-15.
Los Angeles is coming off Tuesday’s 104-92 defeat to Indiana, its fifth loss in a row. Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks scored 21 points apiece and Kendall Marshall had 13 assists, but the Lakers were outrebounded 63-50 and gave up 17 offensive rebounds that led to 20 second-chance points.
The Lakers could be hard-pressed to get back on track without Bryant (knee), who has played only six games this season and is expected to remain out through next month’s All-Star game.
"It’s hard to hear that," Gasol said. "It’s hard for our team to be without its best player. We’ve just got to continue to work and stick together."
Gasol, averaging 20.9 points and 11.7 boards over the last 15 games, has recorded a season-high five consecutive double-doubles. He has been limited to 11.7 points and 35.0 percent shooting in his last three meetings versus Charlotte, though.
Meeks is averaging 21.0 points over the last four games while going 15 of 27 from 3-point range.
The Bobcats could get a boost from point guard Kemba Walker, who is nearing a return from a sprained ankle suffered Jan. 18. Walker, averaging 23.3 points and shooting 54.7 percent in his last three games versus Los Angeles, was averaging 24.8 over a four-game stretch before going down.
The Lakers are 2-9 at home since the start of December, the NBA’s second-worst record over that span. They have also gone a league-worst 2-10 against Eastern Conference teams since Dec. 16.
The Bobcats have won three of four against the West after dropping 10 of their first 12.