Al Jefferson’s solid play of late has helped Charlotte earn some breathing room in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race, and the Bobcats are hoping a deadline deal will provide some depth down the stretch.
Charlotte seeks a seventh victory in its last 10 contests while trying to end a four-game skid against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.
Jefferson wasn’t selected as a reserve for Sunday’s All-Star game, and the extra rest seemed to pay off. After finishing with 32 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s 108-96 win over Detroit, the veteran big man scored 29 as the Bobcats (25-30) swept a home-and-home versus the Pistons with a 116-98 victory Wednesday.
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Jefferson is averaging 27.6 points over his last 10 and narrowly missed his seventh 30-point game in that stretch.
"I’m glad he didn’t (make the All-Star team), either," Kemba Walker said with a laugh. "He’s fresh now. And you don’t have to make the All-Star game to be an All-Star. I know he’s a great player and unguardable in the post."
Charlotte has qualified for the postseason only once in its previous nine seasons of existence – a first-round sweep at the hands of Orlando in 2010 – but it currently holds the eighth spot by 2 1/2 games over Detroit. It is one game behind Washington and Brooklyn, which are tied for fifth.
"We had a bad reputation around this league for a long time, at least since I’ve been here," said Walker, who had 24 points and added a career-high 16 assists Wednesday. "Coach (Steve Clifford) has done a great job of changing the culture. We just want to win. We don’t want to be those Bobcats where guys come in here and beat us up every night."
In an attempt to give Walker and fellow starting guard Gerald Henderson some solid help from the bench, the Bobcats traded Ramon Sessions and the little-used Jeff Adrien to Milwaukee for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour on Thursday.
Neal, averaging 10.0 points, was brought in to be a legitimate 3-point threat. The Bobcats are shooting 35.5 percent from beyond the arc, and Neal has hit nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in his career.
Ridnour will back up Walker at the point. Both he and Neal had fallen out of the rotation with the Bucks, with Neal sitting 21 games and Ridnour the last four due to coach’s decision.
It’s unclear if either will be in uniform against the Pelicans, who won the first meeting 104-85 on Nov. 2 as Anthony Davis finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, six steals and six blocks.
New Orleans (23-30), though, has dropped three of four after falling 98-91 to New York on Wednesday. Eric Gordon scored 28 points, while Davis added 14 and 10 rebounds.
The Pelicans trailed 83-70 in the fourth quarter before taking a one-point lead with 3:58 left, but they couldn’t hold on down the stretch.
"When we did get stops and pushed the ball, we looked like our team," coach Monty Williams said. "But when we held the ball and dribbled the clock out, we just didn’t look that great."
Austin Rivers helped lead the comeback, scoring 14 points off the bench. Gordon was held scoreless in the fourth.
"There were a couple plays we just didn’t execute that were the difference between us winning and losing," Rivers said.
New Orleans has won four straight in Charlotte since losing 89-82 on Nov. 7, 2008.