Richard Jefferson(notes) has had a forgettable first season in San Antonio so far, but with the Spurs in the rare position of having to battle for a playoff spot, they’re hoping the veteran forward can elevate his play.
If his past few games are any indication, he’s starting to do just that.
Suddenly thriving in a reserve role, Jefferson looks to continue his revival Monday night when San Antonio visits the New Orleans Hornets.
The Spurs (33-24) felt Jefferson would be a great complement to Tim Duncan(notes), Tony Parker(notes) and Manu Ginobili(notes) when they acquired him from New Jersey prior to draft day. Jefferson, who averaged 19.7 points over the past six seasons, has instead seen that average dwindle to 12.0 while struggling to fit in on Gregg Popovich’s team.
He’s come off the bench four times in San Antonio’s last six games, and seems to be getting the hang of his new role. Jefferson had 15 points Friday in a 109-104 loss at Houston, then scored 20 on Sunday in a 113-110 win over Phoenix.
“He’s been aggressive,” Popovich said. “He’s driving the ball well. He’s driving with the shot and not thinking about things. His defense is better, too.”
Popovich has tried all sorts of lineup combinations with newcomers Jefferson, Antonio McDyess(notes), Keith Bogans(notes) and rookie DeJuan Blair(notes). One configuration featured Jefferson up front alongside Duncan, taking him away from his natural small forward spot.
“The last couple of games I’ve played more at the 3-position,” Jefferson said. “There was a good month and a half where I was playing more power forward when we were trying to go with a small lineup, and I struggled with that position.”
Jefferson scored five points in the Spurs’ first meeting with the Hornets (31-29) and was injured in the other, but Popovich’s club won both. The teams wrap up their four-game season series Friday in San Antonio - New Orleans hosts Memphis on Wednesday while the Spurs don’t play in between.
That time off combined with San Antonio’s early Sunday game make it unlikely that Popovich will rest Duncan on Monday, though the trip to New Orleans is the first of six back-to-back scenarios the Spurs face over the next month.
San Antonio is 3-6 on the second leg of back-to-backs, while the Hornets are 4-6.
Popovich has said he plans on giving Duncan some time off even though San Antonio is just one-half game ahead of Portland for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
New Orleans is three games behind the Trail Blazers, and while the possibility of getting star Chris Paul(notes) back by mid-March to make a playoff push sounds enticing, that would mean less time for Darren Collison(notes).
The rookie point guard has done a remarkable job filling in, averaging 23.9 points, 8.1 assists and 2.2 steals in the Hornets’ last 10 games.
Collison had his best offensive game yet Sunday in Dallas, scoring 35 points and shooting 15 of 21, but a 19-point halftime deficit proved too much for New Orleans to overcome in a 108-100 defeat.
Fellow rookie Marcus Thornton(notes) had 21 points in the loss to the Mavericks, and he’s helped make up for some of the scoring lost with Paul sidelined. Thornton has averaged 18.5 points in his past 14 games, though New Orleans is 0-6 when he scores 20 or more.
“Those two young kids are energetic,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of Collison and Thornton. “They’ve got a lot of fight in them.”