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Bobcats-Cavaliers Preview

The Associated Press

The Charlotte Bobcats are creeping closer to a playoff spot while the Cleveland Cavaliers' postseason chances are dimming quickly.

Al Jefferson looks to continue his recent success as the Bobcats attempt to put themselves on the verge of the playoffs by beating the Cavaliers for a fifth straight meeting Saturday night.

Charlotte (38-38) is close to just its second trip to the postseason in its 10-year history, with the other coming in 2010. The Bobcats are seventh in the Eastern Conference, 5 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place New York with six games left in the regular season - one more than the Knicks.

Since the teams split their four-game season series, Charlotte will need a win against Cleveland (31-46) and a New York defeat at Miami on Sunday to clinch a postseason berth.

The Bobcats have looked capable of doing their part of late, winning five of seven games while averaging 106.9 points - 10.2 higher than their season average.

"We're heading in the right direction," Jefferson said. "We're a team that's playing well right now. We've just got to continue to get better, and get ready for the playoffs.

"We're right there, but we've got to take it one game at a time."

Jefferson is playing a vital role over the past seven games, scoring 25.1 points per contest while pulling down 11.1 rebounds. The forward had a double-double in the first half Friday and finished with 29 points and 16 boards while sinking 13 of 24 shots from the floor in a 91-80 victory over Orlando.

He also led the way in a 101-92 win over Cleveland on March 7, scoring 28 points while making 12 of 18 from the field.

The Bobcats have won four straight meetings with the Cavaliers, one shy of their longest in the all-time series from Nov. 27, 2009-March 30, 2011.

They've held Cleveland to an average of 88.5 points in those wins, including an 86-80 victory - only their second in 16 all-time games there - in the most recent visit to Cleveland on Nov. 15.

Kemba Walker is averaging 9.8 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 32.7 percent from the field - 3 of 13 from beyond the arc - over his four visits to Quicken Loans Arena. However, he scored 20 points and dished out 14 assists against the Cavs last month.

While the Bobcats seem to be on their way to the playoffs, the Cavaliers are three games back of Atlanta for the eighth and final spot with five games to go.

Cleveland squandered a chance to move closer Friday, falling 117-98 to the Hawks while making 39.6 percent of its field goals and just 5 of 21 3-pointers.

"They kicked our behind from the beginning to the end," coach Mike Brown said. "No, it doesn't feel like it's over but the loss is very, very disappointing. The way we lost, it looked like we weren't playing for much out there."

Brown may be looking for improvement from Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng, who had 13 points each while combining to go 10 for 28 from the floor.

Irving hasn't been much better against Charlotte this season, averaging 15.7 points while going 1 for 15 from 3-point range and shooting 34.0 percent overall. That includes missing all seven of his 3s and finishing with 13 points March 7, while Deng and Dion Waiters each had a team-high 19 points in that lost.

Waiters has averaged 23.1 points in his last nine games.

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