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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bobcats-Hornets Week in Review: The Ballad of Big Al

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 3:51 PM

The Hornets-Bobcats, weary from a week of West Coast games, lost to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. The game fell on the second night of a back-to-back in the middle of a West Coast swing. They played yet another game without their starting point guard and co-offensive team leader.

I could go on. Yet, as the myriad of excuses piled up for Charlotte's loss, one thing remained perfectly clear.
They persevered.

In a tough stretch, they had to have two wins over struggling teams without a stalwart player and they got them with distinctly different styles.

Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets could have doubled as a track event. The Nuggets thrive in fast-paced games and tend to score a ton against less-than-elite defenses. Charlotte, led by the latest in a series of Al Jefferson's unbelievable efforts, held Denver's running attack in check (a theme of sorts for Denver teams this week) while putting up a triple-digit scoring effort.

The win marked the first time in over a month that the team beat a .500 or better opponent on the road since they beat the Raptors in Toronto on Jan. 20 (Denver has since dropped to a game below .500, but we're looking for bright spots here).

Jefferson shined with a gaudy 35-11 stat line. Despite defensive deficiencies at the key - leading to a massive 33-point night for a usually subdued Randy Foye - the team held a very good offense to under 100 points. Injuries to starting guard Ty Lawson made a big difference, but remember that the teams had a level playing field in that regard.

The focus, though, should remain on Jefferson. He more than doubled the points output on any other player while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. To out this in perspective, Gerald Henderson scored 16 points while shooting 6-17. Jefferson's effectiveness is picking up other player's struggles and consistently outshining the other teams' double-teams and the waves of players sent at him.

His recent trail of destruction has left the announcers, the fans and the league in awe. To do it without a primary ballhandler places his recent run just under the much-publicized run of Kevin Durant.

While Durant has an arsenal of perimeter moves and one of the NBA's finest jumpers, Jefferson must rely on back-to-the-basket maneuvering and, for now, backup guards getting him the ball. Jefferson's scoring, while less flashy, is no less impressive against the kinds of defenders he faces on a night-to-night basis.
When he followed up his 35/11 performance with 40/18 against the Los Angeles Lakers, the minimal talk around the Bobcats-Hornets shifted from a nice run to Al Jefferson: All-Star. He abused Pau Gasol and the collection of stiffs the Lakers ran at him when Gasol failed. Jefferson tied his career high with 40, put up his 11th straight 20-point game and did it all shooting 18-32.

Jefferson played as the only option on the bulk of Charlotte's possessions and still shot well over 50 percent. That speaks both to his singular ability to get buckets and the Lakers inability to play anything resembling basketball with their depleted roster.

With the two wins, the Bobcats-Hornets moved into 8th in the East, which would guarantee them the right to lose 4 straight debilitating games to the Miami Heat. That said, they would lose those games in the playoffs. For a team that played exactly five meaningful games all of last season, these wins and this run without Walker marks a truly remarkable stretch.

That Charlotte lost to a good team the following night did little harm to their already impressive week. The team earned their listlessness. Jefferson scored only 10, thus ending his streak, but 35-40 points does not happen so often.

Big Al's week did not end up in an All-Star nod, but he proved to be part of the discussion. Charlotte's week did not end undefeated, but they weaseled their way into the playoff picture. All this and they improved to 4-3 without Kemba Walker on the floor. Walker's return can't come soon enough with a particularly tough set of games coming up, but the Bobcats-Hornets already know what they have to do.

With no all-stars, missing starters and the odds stacked against them, they have to persevere.

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