CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Charlotte Bobcats finally have a happy locker room, the result of winning games and contending for a berth in the NBA playoffs.
The Bobcats took a step closer to a postseason spot Friday, holding off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Orlando Magic 91-80 for their third straight win.
"It shows how hard they've really worked, and how they've fought to get back to this point," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. "Now we'd like to get over .500, which would be a nice thing for our team."
Al Jefferson had 29 points and 16 rebounds, and Kemba Walker added 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Bobcats, who at 38-38 are back at .500 for the first time since Nov. 23, when they were 7-7.
Now Charlotte has a shot at its first winning record since Nov. 15, when the Bobcats were 5-4 despite not having Jefferson in the lineup because of an ankle injury.
"We're heading in the right direction," Jefferson said. "We're a team that's playing well right now. We've just got to continue to get better, and get ready for the playoffs.
"We're right there, but we've got to take it one game at a time."
Victor Oladipo scored 21 points and three others finished in double figures for the Magic, who despite having the league's third-worst record (21-55) had beaten Charlotte twice in three previous meetings.
But on Friday, Orlando faced the Bobcats without 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic, who was a game-time scratch after he complained of soreness in his left Achilles tendon.
"I went through my pregame routine, and it started to become more and more sore," Vucevic said. "I talked to the trainer, and we decided it was best for me not to go."
Without Vucevic — who had 24 points and 20 rebounds in the Magic's 110-105 overtime victory over Charlotte on March 28 — in the lineup, Jefferson broke loose for 21 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.
Still, it took a big run in the second quarter for the Bobcats to take command, leading by as many as 19 points before taking a 53-36 halftime lead.
Charlotte extended that lead to 21 points midway through the third quarter, going up 68-47 on Jefferson's jumper with 5:08 remaining, before Orlando began making a comeback.
Despite shooting just 35.6 percent from the field, the Magic cut the Bobcats' lead to 72-60 by the end of the third quarter, and pulled within 76-69 on Oladipo's 3-pointer with 8:58 remaining in the fourth. But Gary Neal (12 points) had a three-point play 26 seconds later to push Charlotte's lead back into double figures.
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