CHARLOTTE (AP) — Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said his team’s focus shouldn’t be whether they’re playing the Indiana Pacers or Toronto Raptors in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
He said that’s “wasted energy” and his players will be better served using the final five regular season games to improve.
“To do something of significance, you have to be at the top of your game,” said Clifford, whose team has won four straight games to climb above .500. “You can’t spend any time worrying about seventh seed (or) sixth seed. It doesn’t matter. It’s about improving.”
The Bobcats (39-38) clinched a playoff berth Saturday night.
Charlotte is currently the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference but has a chance to move up a spot if it wins at Washington on Wednesday night. The Bobcats trail the Wizards by one game, but a victory gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The No. 6 seed would mean the Bobcats would have a more favorable first-round matchup, facing Toronto or Chicago rather than East powerhouses Miami or Indiana.
Charlotte’s best first-round matchup would appear to be Toronto — the Bobcats have swept all three meetings.
However, the Bobcats haven’t fared as well against the East’s other top teams.
They’re 0-4 the two-time defending champion Heat, 1-3 against the Pacers and 0-2 against the Bulls. Charlotte closes the season against Chicago on April 16.
Clifford said he has no plans to rest his starters down the stretch, reiterating that is about improving rather than trying to tying to dictate its first-round opponent.
“Look, we need to be playing as well as we can,” Clifford said. “That’s what we need to be focused on. The games will play out and they’ll give us somebody to play and we’ll play them.”
Players seemed to echo Clifford’s sentiment after Monday’s practice — at least partially.
Guard Gerald Henderson said it’s only natural to take a glance at the standings and project who and where the Bobcats might end up playing in two weeks.
“We want to win the rest of our five games,” Henderson said. “If that means moving up to the sixth spot because of that, then that would be a great thing. But we want to improve. We feel like if we are playing at our best we can beat any team.”
Center Al Jefferson, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday, made it clear the Bobcats still have goals in mind heading down the stretch.
“We still feel like we have a chance to move up” in the standings, Jefferson said. “We don’t want to get to the playoffs and get swept. We want to make some noise in the playoffs.”
The Bobcats have never won a playoff game in franchise history, let alone a playoff series.
Regardless of how they fare in the postseason, it’s hard not to look at this first season under Clifford, an NBA Coach of the Year candidate, anything but a positive given they were a combined 28-120 the last two seasons.
Clifford said he talked with his staff before the season and they decided against setting any specific goal for players in terms of number of victories.
He said he wasn’t sure what would be a realistic goal.
“Certainly if you said to me back in September, ‘Would you take a 39-38 record with five games to go, well, yes. I’m really happy for guys and happy for the organization. … I feel like it’s a group that wins for the right reasons — we defend, we rebound and we play unselfishly. They’ve been rewarded for that.”