The decision was in Steve Clifford's hands. Al Jefferson had sat out most of the past months recovering from a sprained right ankle, making a short return to the court once before re-aggravating the injury. Two weeks later, Jefferson was back doing contact drills in practice and his return was once again put in the hands of his coach.
"Al's going to start tonight," Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. "I don't know how many minutes he'll play, but he feels good and he didn't have any soreness or anything from practice yesterday where he did a lot."
Calling it "music to my ears," Jefferson is more than ready to be back in action.
But he doesn't want to force himself into the lineup and jilt the cohesion the roster has had at times during his absence.
"I just want to kind of get in the flow of things. I don't want to come out and my teammates just focus on me getting the ball. I want them to continue playing the way they been playing and I just get in the flow of their little scheme and try to find my place."
And that's certainly an important process. Jefferson give the Bobcats an asset to focus on getting the ball at times, but the team found some sentimental chemistry in a team similar to last year but with better defense. Al Jefferson finding his flow will be good, but there were times when the Bobcats stopped flowing whatsoever, and that's when they'll really need him.
As for Jefferson's conditioning, he knows he's not near game shape and he won't see as much minutes to begin with as his stamina has dwindled with him being out so long. Clifford said he'll play him when he's fresh and he'll have to be careful with his minutes and watch how Jefferson responds.
Jefferson said he's still not completely pain-free, and that he probably won't be for a while, but he doesn't limp while running and has been able to push it in workouts within the past week. With any luck, Jefferson said he should be back to game shape in about a week.