MJ’s pep talk lifts Bobcats past Cavs
When Michael Jordan speaks, people still listen.
The Charlotte Bobcats owner praised his team during a pregame locker room speech Friday night, but warned his players it’s only going to get tougher from here on out.
Jordan spoke directly about the Bobcats potentially making the playoffs — something that seemed inconceivable five months ago for a team that was 7-59 and 21-61 the previous two seasons.
“He talked to them about the progress that he had seen and praised them for their attitude and togetherness as a team,” coach Steve Clifford said. “And he let them know, which I thought was perfect, the toughest part is ahead. We made our first step and it now gets tougher. It was a great message.”
A message that apparently inspired the Bobcats, currently seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Al Jefferson scored 28 points, Kemba Walker had 20 points and 14 assists, and the Bobcats (29-33) defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-92 for their sixth straight win at home, surpassing their win total from the previous two seasons combined.
It was an important win for the Bobcats, who improved to 3-0 this season against the Cavaliers and now own the tiebreaker against both Detroit and Cleveland, the ninth- and 10th-place teams in the East.
“If that don’t motivate you, I don’t know what will,” Jefferson said of Jordan addressing the team.
It was a huge loss for Cleveland.
Dion Waiters and Luol Deng each scored 19 points for the Cavaliers, who began the night 31/2 games behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the East. They now trail Charlotte by 51/2 games.
“It hurts,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “Especially knowing where we’re sitting and where they’re sitting right now, it’s a tough loss.”
Jefferson shot 12 of 18 from the field and reached 20 points for the 22nd time in his last 24 games. Chris Douglas-Roberts added 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and a season-high nine rebounds.
Charlotte’s six-game home winning streak is its longest since a seven-game run in March 2010.
“There are 20 games left and it’s time to start talking about the playoffs — about not just qualifying but getting our team game-ready for the playoffs and guys getting their individual games ready,” Clifford said.
Cleveland took an 81-80 lead on a pair of free throws by Waiters with 7 minutes left in the game. But Walker matched that with two free throws of his own and knocked down a jumper to spark a 15-5 run that put Charlotte safely ahead.
The Cavaliers shot just 32 percent in the second half, and Charlotte held Kyrie Irving to 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Irving came in averaging 24.5 points in his previous four games in Charlotte.
Waiters said it’s not too late for the Cavaliers to make a playoff push.
But they’ll need to play much better than they did Friday night.
“We have a chance and a shot, so why not? Why not us?” Waiters said. “We’ve got to have a sense of urgency. The clock is ticking.”