Sports

Bobcats Eager To Build On Success From This Year

STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer
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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Al Jefferson said the Charlotte Bobcats have plenty to be proud of despite getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.

But the 6-foot-10 center said the focus must turn to toward building on the success rather than getting complacent when Charlotte changes its name to the Hornets next season.

“We can’t take any steps back,” said Jefferson, who led the team in scoring and rebounding after joining the team in July as a free agent. “We have to continue to build and get better.”

The Bobcats won 43 games under first-year head coach Steve Clifford, more than doubling their win total from the previous season.

However, they failed to capture their first playoff win in franchise history, losing to LeBron James in four games. It didn’t help that Jefferson strained his left plantar fascia in the first quarter of Game 1 and was, as Clifford called him, “a mere shell of himself” for the rest of the series.

Jefferson had been the team’s offensive catalyst all season averaging 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

“It would be hard to find any team playing in the playoffs right now whose team is more reliant on one guy than we are on him,” Clifford said. “This guy was far and away the biggest difference in our team.”

It was a surprising season for a team that started four players who had never started a postseason game and had gone 28-120 over the previous two seasons.

Yet, the Bobcats finished with the 16th best record in the league and were the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think this was a stepping stone for us,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who showed steady improvement in year three. “No one expected us to get to the playoffs. But we did. It’s disappointing we got swept but the experience was great. Now we know what it takes to get here.”

Clifford called the season a “good first step” but nothing more.

He said there is still plenty of work to be done both on and off the court to improve the team.

“We have to get better internally and we have to find ways to get better externally,” Clifford said. “That’s the reality of it. We have a lot of guys who need to have good summers to get better.”

The bulk of Charlotte’s roster is under contract at least through next season with one notable exception: starting power forward Josh McRoberts.

McRoberts, who turned his career around since being acquired in a trade with Orlando late in the 2012-13 season, will hit the free agent market this offseason. In the past Bobcats owner Michael Jordan said he viewed McRoberts as a “connector,” akin to what Scottie Pippen was with the Chicago Bulls.

Jordan spoke to his players after they were eliminated Monday night, urging them to work on their games this summer and come back stronger and hungrier.

But it’s also clear the Bobcats need to upgrade.

Despite adding Gary Neal in a draft deadline trade, the Bobcats shot 35 percent from 3-point range — 23rd in the league — and were one of the league’s least productive offensive teams. They were in the top 10 in defense all season.

The Bobcats currently have the 24th pick in the NBA draft, although they could get Detroit’s pick if the Pistons fall out of the top eight in the NBA draft lottery.

The Bobcats also succeeded in bringing back the energy that has been missing from professional basketball in Charlotte the past three seasons.

A sold out crowd of 19,633 on Saturday night — the largest ever to see a Bobcats’ game on their home court — chanted throughout and booed whenever LeBron James touched the basketball.

“I was kind of digging that,” Walker said with a laugh.

Walker believes there will be even more excitement when the Hornets name returns to Charlotte. The name change is expected to go into effect next month.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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