In a game that had a rather uneven flow, the Bobcats were steady enough to hold off a pesky, shorthanded Orlando Magic team, winning 91-80 to improve to .500 on the season -- one step closer to clinching only the second playoff birth in franchise history.
The first quarter was fine for Charlotte until Kemba Walker's left ankle was stepped on by the Magic's Chris O'Quinn. Walker left the court briefly and had the ankle retaped before returning. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist then took a hard body check on a drive to the basket and hit the floor hard. There was a clean play on the ball, however, and certainly enough contact to warrant a foul. But looking at the replay the body check wasn't egregious to the point of being blatant.
Still, MKG suffered a bruised back and also left the court to get checked out by the Bobcats' trainers. Thankfully, he returned to play and head coach Steve Clifford said MKG probably could have played more minutes had they needed him. Clifford later confirmed he was fine after the game.
Meanwhile, Al Jefferson just kept on feasting. Orlando big man Nikola Vucevic did not play due to a sore Achilles' tendon, and Jefferson wasted no time abusing any and all Orlando defenders that were unfortunate enough to guard him. He notched 21 points and 11 rebounds in the first half alone and finished the game with 29 points on 13-24 shooting to go with 16 boards. Jefferson did tweak his knee at one point, but showed no ill effects and kept on nom-nomming.
The game got out of hand in the second quarter when the Bobcats broke out of a small funk and pushed out to a 53-36 lead by the half. The Bobcats could have gotten bogged down with choppy play and poor execution but refused to let that happen. Anthony Tolliver, who has seen his role diminish as of late, found his touch in the second quarter hitting 3-4 threes and sparking the Charlotte run.
Charlotte kept the Magic at arm's length through most of the third quarter as well. Orlando did get within seven points though, as the Magic took advantage of the Bobcats' second unit until Kemba Walker returned and helped push the Bobcats back out to a double-digit lead.
Walker, who didn't shoot particularly well (5-15 from the field), found other ways to contribute and achieved his second career triple-double when he grabbed his 10th rebound off an unexpected blown breakaway layup by Victor Oladipo. Walker finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Tolliver (13 points) and Gary Neal (12 points) carried the scoring load off the bench. Cody Zeller got his second career start for the dinged up Josh McRoberts and had a fine game, highlighted by a thunderous two-handed dunk off a pick and roll with Walker. Zeller finished with eight points and four rebounds and continued to look more confident.
Charlotte is now 38-38, which means the Bobcats are .500.
Their next game is against the Cavaliers in Cleveland Saturday night. Charlotte leads the league in back-to-backs this season, so they should be used to these by now. And with a favorable schedule remaining (including two games against Washington next week), the Bobcats will have a shot to reach that sixth seed in the East. Washington is only two games ahead of Charlotte in the standings.