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Jefferson powers Bobcats past Pistons

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Charlotte center Al Jefferson initially decided to take it easy during the All-Star break. With the prodding of teammate Jannero Pargo, Jefferson changed his mind and made sure he felt strong once he returned to action.

That turned out to be a wise move, as Jefferson collected 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and the Charlotte Bobcats won the first game of a home-and-home series with the Detroit Pistons 108-96 Tuesday night at The Palace.

“My teammate over here, I told him I was just going to ride the bike for the All-Star break,” said Jefferson, who scored 30 or more points for the sixth time in nine games. “He said, ‘No, you need to get in the gym because that could be the difference between you having 20 or 30 points.’ So, I got in the gym Saturday and Sunday and finished with 32.”

Jefferson’s big night gave the Bobcats some breathing room in their drive for a postseason berth. Point guard Kemba Walker had 22 points and six assists, and forward Josh McRoberts added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Charlotte (24-30), which moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Detroit in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The teams play again Wednesday night in Charlotte.

“This team is right behind us,” Jefferson said. “If they had beaten Cleveland, who they had down here on their home court before the break, we would have been on the outside looking in. Guys knew that and then to have to play a back-to-back and four games in five nights, we were ready and focused.”

In the team’s first meeting, Dec. 20 at The Palace, Charlotte erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit while defeating Detroit 116-106. The Bobcats took an entirely different route to victory Tuesday, never trailing while leading by double digits a majority of the game.

Charlotte, which made its first seven field-goal attempts, shot 52 percent from the field and held the Pistons to 39.8 percent shooting.

“Whatever they all did (during the break), they were ready to go,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “It was obviously a factor tonight. I just like the way we played. We did a good job of handling the ball and for the most part, we were well-organized on offense and executed well.”

Point guard Brandon Jennings led the Pistons (22-31) with 24 points and seven assists. Power forward Greg Monroe contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds, and center Andre Drummond supplied 16 points and a career-high-tying 22 rebounds.

“Our energy level didn’t match theirs,” said Detroit interim coach John Loyer, who is now 1-2 since replacing Mo Cheeks. “You come out and give a team however many they made in a row to start the game, that puts you in a hole. You can’t spot that many points because it’s almost like you have to play perfect and have the ball bounce your way down the stretch to win the game.”

The only bright spot for the Pistons was Drummond’s rebounding. With his 11 offensive rebounds, he has eight consecutive games with six-plus offensive rebounds, the longest streak since Dennis Rodman did that eight straight times in 1992.

What Drummond and Monroe couldn’t do was handle Jefferson in the low block.

“He’s an All-Star player, a matchup nightmare,” Pistons guard Will Bynum said. “We know it takes a total team effort to stop a guy like that. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and make sure we’re giving the best effort that we can.”

NOTES: C Andre Drummond has the most double-doubles by a Piston since Grant Hill’s 44 in 1995-96, notching his 40th Tuesday. … Detroit PG Brandon Jennings has 16 games with at least 10 assists, compared with 13 last season when he played for the Milwaukee Bucks. … Charlotte has played a league-high 24 games decided by six points or fewer and won half of them. … Bobcats SG Gerald Henderson is one of eight guards league-wide who started every game before the All-Star break. … Charlotte improved to 14-3 when it reaches 100 points. … PF Charlie Villanueva was not with the Pistons for personal reasons but might rejoin them in Charlotte for Wednesday night’s game. … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said his team is surprising many NBA observers. “I don’t think anybody would have said with 29 games left Charlotte will be right there, playing meaningful games,” he said. … The teams have a combined five players who attended the University of Connecticut.