If the Charlotte Bobcats do hold on to earn the second playoff berth in the franchise's 10-year history, they won't face a tougher four-game stretch than the one they just finished.
Coming off perhaps their most impressive win of the season, the Bobcats look to avoid a letdown of sorts Friday night when they host a Cleveland Cavaliers team whose postseason hopes are fading.
Charlotte (28-33) won four games in five nights coming out of the All-Star break, but dropped the first three on the road in a four-game gauntlet against San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami and Indiana. It was the first consecutive stretch against the league's four best teams for any club since November 2009.
But after losing to the Spurs, Thunder and Heat by a combined 44 points, the Bobcats fared far better at home Wednesday. Al Jefferson followed his 38-point effort at Miami with 34 as Charlotte led wire-to-wire in a 109-87 rout of the Pacers.
"We played a lot of good basketball and you get nothing for it," coach Steve Clifford said. "To be honest, we took a day off (on Tuesday) and you could tell from our shootaround, not that we were going to win, but that we were going to play well."
Clifford's club has played particularly well at home. Charlotte has won five straight on its own court for the first time since a seven-game run in March 2010, with Jefferson scoring at least 29 in four of those.
The Bobcats are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, looking to make the playoffs for the first time since that 2009-10 club that went 31-10 at home.
"I'm not accepting that we're a team that guys look at on the schedule anymore and say, 'OK, we have the Bobcats (so) we can take the night off,'" Jefferson said after the Bobcats improved to 11-2 when he scores at least 27.
Charlotte beat Cleveland by six twice in a two-week stretch in November without Jefferson, who was dealing with a sprained right ankle.
The 10th-place Cavaliers (24-38) are 3 1/2 games behind eighth-place Atlanta, but they're five back in the loss column and just beginning what looks like a brutal stretch. Charlotte is the second opponent during a nine-game stretch in which Cleveland faces eight teams in playoff position.
If the rest of those go anything like the first, the Cavaliers' playoff chances will be on life support. Cleveland led San Antonio 23-13 after one quarter Tuesday before being outscored by 20 in the second and losing 122-101.
"After that first quarter, they just buckled down, got more physical and did things that a veteran ball club should do," guard Kyrie Irving said. "They just made it tough on us on both ends of the floor."
The Cavs got guard Dion Waiters (knee) back from a seven-game absence - both he and Irving had 24 points - but they were still without Anderson Varejao (back) and C.J. Miles (ankle). Varejao returned to practice this week but didn't make the trip to Charlotte, leaving Spencer Hawes and Tristan Thompson to deal with Jefferson in the post.
Though Jefferson has done his part, Charlotte would love to see Kemba Walker emerge from a recent slump. He has shot 32.0 percent in his last four games, though he did have 19 points and nine assists against the Pacers.
Walker has totaled 47 points in the Bobcats' past two home wins over Cleveland, while Irving has averaged 24.5 points in four career trips to Charlotte.
Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson will miss a third straight game with a right calf strain.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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