The Charlotte Bobcats haven’t made the playoffs in their first four seasons, but they’re hoping a three-game winning streak to close a lengthy road trip can help propel them to that goal.
The Bobcats look to win a fourth straight game for the first time in nearly a year Tuesday night when they host the Chicago Bulls - one of the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte (25-35) suffered double-digit losses at Houston and Phoenix to open a five-game western trip, leaving it 13 games below .500 and five games out of the East’s final playoff spot.
The Bobcats, though, concluded the trip with games against three of the West’s worst teams and took full advantage. Gerald Wallace’s 27 points lifted Charlotte past Sacramento on Wednesday, Raymond Felton scored 26 to pace a three-point victory over Golden State on Friday and Emeka Okafor had 28 points Saturday to give Charlotte a trip-closing 100-95 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Bobcats, who haven’t won four in a row since a five-game run from March 2-8, 2008, have pulled within three games of Milwaukee for the eighth playoff spot. There are three teams between them and the Bucks, however, including Chicago (27-33), which is one game back.
Charlotte has to be encouraged by the close victories over the Warriors and Clippers. The Bobcats were 4-16 in games decided by five points or fewer prior to those wins.
“There’s no need looking back and thinking about games we could have won,” coach Larry Brown said. “Our goal is just to get better each game, and I think we’re doing that.”
The big efforts from Felton and Okafor were critical since Wallace, the team’s leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, has struggled to find his shooting touch since returning from a collapsed lung and broken rib two weeks ago. He’s averaging 41.0 percent from the field since coming back and has made more than five field goals in a game once in that eight-game stretch.
The Bulls were 6-8 in contests decided by five points or fewer heading into their latest contest, one that looked like a blowout in the middle of the fourth quarter. Chicago trailed Houston 99-82 with 5:51 left at the United Center on Saturday.
“I am really proud of the way the guys hung in there,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “… It was not looking good. We were the aggressor in the fourth quarter. Derrick made some great plays and our defense got better. It was a great win for us.”
The Bulls came back Saturday despite playing without Luol Deng for the entire second half. An X-ray taken late Saturday revealed a likely stress fracture in his left tibia, which would have sidelined him for the season. An MRI taken Sunday, though, revealed that wasn’t the case.
Now it’s possible Deng might play Tuesday versus the Bobcats, against whom he averaged 26.7 points in three games last season.
Deng had 15 points in Chicago’s visit to Charlotte on Dec. 16, but Rose shot 3-of-16 and Bobcats rookie D.J. Augustin had a game-high 29 points in Charlotte’s 110-101 overtime win.