CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Michael Jordan’s Bobcats set an NBA record for futility two years ago. Now, they’re talking playoffs - albeit in a watered-down Eastern Conference.
That state of the conference doesn’t matter to the Charlotte, not after being the laughingstock of the league following a 7-59 season in 2011-12. The Bobcats’ culture appears to be changing under first-year head coach Steve Clifford and behind the play of Al Jefferson.
Even though the Bobcats (22-28) are six games under .500, they have already surpassed last season’s win total with 32 games still remaining. They have positioned themselves as the No. 8 seed in the East with a three-game cushion in the win column over the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons.
“It’s right there for us,” Clifford said of the postseason.
The Bobcats have only been to the postseason once - in 2010, when they were swept in four games by Orlando.
Now, with guard Gerald Henderson the lone holdover remaining from that team, the new-look Bobcats are talking about returning to the postseason.
“I don’t see why we can’t make the playoffs,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing nearly three weeks a sprained ankle. “I think we have a great team. We’re playing great basketball right now.”
The 6-foot-10 Jefferson isn’t surprised by the Bobcats improvement.
After signing a three-year, $40.5 million contract this offseason, Jefferson said he saw the team’s playoff potential during training camp.
“I felt like that from day one,” Jefferson said. “I felt like we could. But saying it is one thing, you have to go out and do it and prove yourself. And we still haven’t done it yet.”
Not even in the woeful Eastern Conference.
Still, Jefferson has done his part to help energize the Bobcats.
He scored 30 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in Charlotte’s 91-75 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, helping the Bobcats win three of four on a West Coast swing.
Jefferson averaged 23.4 points and 11.3 rebounds during January - third-most in the East. He had five 30-point games last month and a dozen 20-point outings.
“He’s been unstoppable,” Walker said.