After coming up short against the Western Conference’s two best teams, the slumping Charlotte Bobcats had no answer for the two-time defending champs.
Things aren’t about to get any easier with the NBA-leading Indiana Pacers coming to town.
Charlotte tries to pick up a rare win over the Pacers, who hope to avoid back-to-back losses for just the second time this season Wednesday night.
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The Bobcats (27-33) have followed a season-best four-game winning streak with three straight defeats after coming up empty on their recently completed road trip. Charlotte fell 92-82 to San Antonio on Friday and 116-99 to Oklahoma City on Sunday, then suffered a 124-107 loss to Miami the following night.
Al Jefferson had a huge game with 38 points and 19 rebounds, but he was no match for LeBron James, who scored a career-high 61 to set a new Heat record.
"You take away his 61 points," Jefferson said, "and we still had a fighting chance there at the end."
The Bobcats could be hard-pressed to bounce back against the Pacers (46-14), who have taken 14 of 15 in the series, including five straight by an average of 17.8 points. Indiana cruised to a 99-74 victory at Charlotte on Nov. 27, then hung on for a 99-94 home win Dec. 13.
The Pacers had won five in a row over four of the league’s worst teams before falling 98-96 to Golden State on Tuesday. David West scored 27 points and Paul George added 26 to go with 12 rebounds, but Indiana was done in by Klay Thompson’s 12-foot turnaround jumper with 0.6 seconds to go.
"Mentally, we’ve got to be way tougher than we are because it’s time, you know, it’s just time," West said. "It’s just not something that you can just say a week before the playoffs, say, ‘OK.’ You’ve got to work your way into it. But as a group, it’s time. We’ve got a tough three-game trip coming up and it’s just time."
The Pacers shot 41.9 percent, going 3 of 16 from 3-point range to match their third-worst display this season. Their only set of back-to-back defeats came Dec. 16 and 18 against Detroit and Miami.
"We’ve been getting away with playing sub-.500 teams and winning ballgames like these," George said. "We just can’t play with fire on nights like these."
Indiana, set to play its fourth game in five nights, opens a three-game trek Wednesday.
"This will be a huge challenge," George told the team’s official website. "We got to go to Charlotte, Dallas, and Houston, who are all playoff teams."
The Bobcats’ four-game home winning streak is their longest since 2009-10. They are 13-3 on their own court when scoring more than 91 points compared to 2-11 when they don’t.
The Pacers are allowing an NBA-low 91.3 points per contest. However, they have surrendered an average of 98.8 in dropping seven of their last 10 when closing back-to-backs on the road.
The Bobcats signed center Justin Hamilton to a 10-day contract Tuesday. Hamilton, who averaged 19.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 37 games in the NBA D-League, takes the roster spot of the recently waived Ben Gordon.
Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson is uncertain to suit up after sitting out Monday with a strained right calf.