CLEVELAND – No one will fault the Charlotte Bobcats for taking a moment to savor their second postseason appearance in franchise history.
They’ve come a long way in a short period of time.
Al Jefferson scored 24 points, including seven in overtime, and the Bobcats clinched a playoff spot with a 96-94 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Charlotte is in the postseason for the second time in its 10-year history and the first time since 2010. The Bobcats (39-38) are over .500 for the second time this season and hold seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Steve Clifford, Charlotte’s third coach in three seasons, praised his team’s character.
“This is a significant accomplishment for our group of guys, and it puts us in a different place in the league,” he said.
“The guys in the locker room are excited — and they should be — because we’ve got a good group of guys and a group of guys who are truly deserving.”
While the Bobcats were celebrating, the Cavaliers’ slim playoff hopes suffered yet another damaging loss despite a career-high 44 points from Kyrie Irving. Cleveland (31-47) trails eighth-place Atlanta by 3½ games for the final playoff spot in the East.
The Bobcats have made significant progress since finishing 7-59 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Charlotte was 21-61 last season.
“Words can’t describe it,” guard Kemba Walker said. “For me, Gerald (Henderson), and Biz (Bismack Biyombo), we were the original guys here.
“We were on the worst team my first two years, so to go from there to here, it’s like night and day.”
Nets 105, 76ers 101
In Philadelphia, Kevin Garnett scored 10 points in his first game in more than five weeks to help Brooklyn pull out a win over the Sixers.
The 37-year-old Garnett missed 19 straight games since Feb. 27 because of back spasms. The Nets went 14-5 over that span.
Garnett was back in the starting lineup and was sharp from the start. He scored on an alley-oop in the first quarter, made his first four shots, and had a nasty block on Michael Carter-Williams’ layup attempt that knocked the rookie guard to the ground.
Raptors 102, Bucks 98
In Milwaukee, DeMar DeRozan scored 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and Toronto beat the Bucks to keep pace in the hunt for playoff position.
The Raptors and the Chicago Bulls are 45-32 and tied for the third seed in the Eastern Conference with five games to play.
Milwaukee fell to an NBA-worst 14-63, guaranteeing the team’s worst record in its 45-year history.
Bulls 96, Wizards 78
In Washington, D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, Joakim Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Chicago turned a possible first-round playoff preview into a laugher.
Augustin made 6 of 11 3-pointers — but only 2 of 8 2-pointers — and Carlos Boozer added 16 points for the Bulls, who have won five straight.
Augustin has averaged 19.8 points during the winning streak.
John Wall scored 20 points, and Marcin Gortat had 19 for the Wizards, who sit in sixth place in the East. If they hold that spot, they would face the third-seeded team.
Magic 100, Timberwolves 92
In Orlando, Arron Afflalo scored 18 points and Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless added 17 apiece to lead the Magic over short-handed Minnesota.
Rookie Victor Oladipo contributed 16 points and six assists to help Orlando snap a three-game losing streak. Kyle O’Quinn had 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Ricky Rubio led the Timberwolves with 18 points 10 assists and three steals.
Pistons 115, Celtics 111
In Auburn Hills, Michigan, Rodney Stuckey came off the bench to score 26 points and help Detroit rally past Boston.
The Pistons trailed by as many as 19 points in third quarter and were down 95-85 at the start of the fourth before going on a 15-4 run that gave them their first lead since early in the game.
The teams traded the lead several times before Stuckey made a pair of free throws with 57 seconds left to break a 111-111 tie.
Jerryd Bayless tried for a go-ahead shot in the final seconds but his 3-point try rimmed out.
Greg Monroe scored 21 points, Brandon Jennings had 20 and Andre Drummond added 19 and 20 rebounds to help Detroit end a two-game skid.