Jefferson has helped Bobcats change losing culture

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 2, 2014 at 2:31 am •  Published: April 2, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Al Jefferson isn't surprised the Bobcats are on the brink of clinching an NBA playoff spot.

And the veteran center doesn't think this Charlotte team is a one-year wonder.

"We've got a long way to go, but we can be one of the elite teams in the East," Jefferson said.

When Jefferson signed a three-year, $40.5 million free agent contract last July he insisted he wasn't coming to Charlotte just to collect a paycheck. He wanted to help change what'd become a losing culture.

So far, so good.

The Bobcats (36-38) have the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference. They're 4½ games ahead of the ninth-place New York Knicks and can wrap up their first playoff berth since 2010 by winning four of their final eight games.

Jefferson has been an integral part of the turnaround, averaging 21.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game this season.

Charlotte also has benefited from the maturation of third-year point guard Kemba Walker and some unexpected contributions from unheralded role players Chris Douglas-Roberts and Anthony Tolliver.

The Bobcats are hardly a dominating force, but first-year coach Steve Clifford seems to have his team headed in the right direction.

"I thought this could happen for us if we worked for it," Jefferson said. "I couldn't tell you when I signed that we were going to be here in a playoff run, but I knew that if we locked into what coach wanted us to do and committed and dedicated ourselves to this team, that we were going to have a chance."

Clifford has preached defense — and his players have listened.

Charlotte is allowing 97.5 points per game, the sixth-fewest in the NBA. That's a dramatic improvement from the previous year, when the Bobcats allowed the second-most points in the league.

Clifford said the key now is for players to avoid complacency.

Clifford suggested before Monday night's win over Washington that his players were too busy focusing on what they've already done rather than what's ahead.