The first time Al Jefferson got the ball inside against Marcin Gortat this season, the Charlotte Bobcats big man brought out one of his signature low-post moves. Jefferson reverse-pivoted to face up Gortat, drove right, stopped, dipped and scooped in a layup with a nifty up-and-under move.
Feeling good about the move, an excited Jefferson shouted to teammate Gerald Henderson for more touches as he ran back on defense. “Give it to me,” Jefferson said.
Gortat made the rest of the night miserable for Jefferson as he constantly pressed on the 6-foot-10 big man, shoved him and blocked his view of the rim. Jefferson finished with a season-low six points and shot 3 of 9 from the field as the Wizards won 97-83 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Three of the misses didn’t touch the rim, including one fadeaway jumper that hit about the square of the backboard.
Afterward, Gortat spoke about winning the head-to-head duel and how much he enjoys mixing it up with Jefferson, dating back the time when Gortat was in Phoenix and Jefferson was in Utah.
“We always battled. I kind of learned how to play against him. I was focused from the get go,” Gortat said after that Jan. 7 meeting. “It’s more fun stopping him. When you play good defense for two, three seconds, he doesn’t want to get it anymore and I want to punch him even more. It’s more fun. when you smell blood, you’re doing a good job, you want to hit people even more, that’s how I felt.”
The Wizards (33-30) will need a similarly staunch effort defensively from Gortat on Jefferson if they are going to have a chance to defeat the surprising Bobcats on Wednesday at Verizon Center. Since Gortat shut him down two months ago, Jefferson has arguably been the best big man in the Eastern Conference, averaging 25.5 points on 54 percent shooting while grabbing 10.6 rebounds. He has posted eight games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, including a 38-point-19-rebound performance on March 3 that was completely overshadowed by LeBron James scoring a career-high 61 points.
“I think he’s averaging almost 30 a game since we played him last,” Coach Randy Wittman joked about Jefferson, whom he coached in Minnesota. “I don’t know if we were the wake-up call or what it was. He’s taken off since then and he’s doing it against everybody. We’re going to have to have a collective effort to stymie that a bit.”
Jefferson has shot better than 50 percent in only one of his past seven games against Gortat, who has held Jefferson to 16.7 points on 46 percent shooting in the past seven meetings.
“I always feel good playing against Al,” Gortat said. “That’s a huge challenge for me.”
The Bobcats (30-34) are one of the hottest teams in the East, having won six of eight to claim the seventh spot in the playoff picture. The Wizards only have a 3 1/2-game lead over Charlotte and the teams will face each other two more times after Wednesday’s game.
“They are playng with great confidence,” Wittman said. “We’re going to have to play an ‘A game’ and come out and attack right from the start.