CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Al Jefferson signed with the Charlotte Bobcats in July looking to play games that matter in March, April and May.
"Right now we're in a dog fight -- a dog fight!" Jefferson said, after dragging his team to a 90-87 home victory against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.
Jefferson was talking about being in a playoff race, but there was something pretty mangy about how the Bobcats played in the fourth quarter. They shot 6-of-19 from the field, letting the Pelicans tie the game after Charlotte led by 13.
Point guard Kemba Walker hit four free throws in the closing seconds, but it was Jefferson who was again spectacular. He finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and a late block of a drive by Eric Gordon.
Jefferson spun in the lane, got a hand in to disrupt Gordon's handle, and blew up an important New Orleans possession. For a guy not known for defense, it was a huge play.
"I'm pretty sure he seen me," Jefferson said of Gordon. "He just didn't know my hands were so quick."
That was the first of two key defensive stops. The other was on the game's last possession when Josh McRoberts blocked a 39-foot shot by Pelicans point guard Brian Roberts just before the final buzzer.
The Pelicans were out of timeouts, so they couldn't advance the ball to midcourt on their final possession. McRoberts made sure to deny Roberts a lane without fouling, and ended the game with that block.
The Bobcats won their third straight, improving to 26-30. But this wasn't as positive as the back-to-back victories over the Detroit Pistons that started the streak.
"It's a good win. The only thing that's not satisfying is not to play our best," coach Steve Clifford said.
Clifford didn't like his team's energy in the second half or its offensive movement, looking to play off Jefferson (14 of 30 from the field). Subtract Jefferson's numbers, and the rest of the team shot 17 of 50.
They were just as flawed on free throws. While the Bobcats took 25 more trips to the foul line, they were 25 of 36 there.
"We can't have fourth quarters like that," said Jefferson, who reached 30 or more points for the seventh time in 11 games. "We kind of got away from what we needed to be."
Jefferson said this is as fun a span as any in his nine-season NBA career because it's a new beginning with tangible stakes.
"They trust me, they play through me," Jefferson said of his new team.
And now he has new teammates. The Bobcats made a trade Thursday, acquiring Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks. Neal is a career 39.3 percent from 3-point range, so he could deliver the spacing the Bobcats need to thwart double-teams sent at Jefferson.
"Very happy," Jefferson said when asked about Neal. "When I was with Utah (and Neal was with San Antonio), I didn't like him; didn't like him at all -- because he didn't miss shots."
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