CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Al Jefferson put the Charlotte Bobcats on his back and carried them for the past three weeks, and he was up to the task again Friday night.
The 6-foot-10 center exploded for 33 points and 10 rebounds as the Bobcats held on down the stretch for a 90-87 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
It marked the seventh time in the last 11 games that Jefferson scored 30 or more points. He scored 14 of Charlotte's first 16 points, which gave the Bobcats an early lead and set the tone for the night.
"I can't imagine anybody playing a lot better than him in the league right now," Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said of Jefferson. "It's just amazing. He's playing great."
Jefferson, who signed a three-year, $42-million contract as a free agent in the offseason, acknowledged that this might be the best extended stretch of his nine-year career.
"I think it's meaning more right now because it's right now and I'm with the Charlotte Bobcats, a new beginning," Jefferson said. "We're trying to establish something here. Me and my teammates are trying to turn this around and get to the playoffs.
"My teammates trust me. They play through me. They actually want to give me the ball. So I think this is a chance for us to really make a statement now."
The win was the Bobcats' third straight and moved them to 26-30 and into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. They have won seven of their last 10.
The Bobcats made it tougher on themselves at the end than they wanted to.
After leading 43-32 at halftime and 68-59 after three quarters, they pushed the lead to 13 at 79-66 with 6:45 remaining. But the Pelicans reeled off 12 straight points, and eventually tied the game at 84 on a 3-pointer by guard Brian Roberts with 1:30 remaining.
Jefferson's free throw with 39.3 seconds left gave the Bobcats the lead for good at 85-84, and after a couple of key defensive stops, guard Kemba Walker hit four free throws in the final 8.9 seconds to seal the victory.
Clifford was pleased with the win, but not with the way the Bobcats limped to the finish line.
Charlotte wound up shooting just 38.8 percent from the field and missed 11 free throws. The only two players in double figures besides Jefferson were Walker and forward Cody Zeller with 13 each.
"To me, it's a good win, but the only thing that's not as satisfying about it is we didn't play nearly our best," Clifford said. "That's what this thing is all about. We talked about, you've got to play well. If we're not playing better two weeks from now than we are today, we won't make the playoffs. The good teams go to a different level at this time of year. And tonight, we went a level down.
"We played two really good games this week against Detroit. We played a good first half tonight. But that second half isn't going to get it. They outplayed us in the second half and they had more energy in the second half."
New Orleans, which fell to 23-31 and lost for the fourth time in the last five games, was led by Roberts with 20 points. Forward Anthony Davis had 18 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out, and guard Eric Gordon scored 14.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams blamed the slow start for the loss.
"Our first half was about as bad as we've played all year long from an execution standpoint, and it's not because we're young anymore," Williams said. "It just boils down to doing your job, and we didn't do it in the first half. The second half we executed and were able to score the ball, but we dug ourselves too big a hole."
NOTES: Bobcats G Gary Neal and G Luke Ridnour, acquired from Milwaukee on Thursday in exchange for G Ramon Sessions and F Jeff Adrien, passed their physicals but were not in uniform Friday night. The trade is still pending NBA approval, so the earliest Neal and Ridnour can expect to play is next Friday at San Antonio. The Bobcats have a six-day break after Saturday's home game against Memphis. ... This was a meeting of the former Hornets and the future Hornets. New Orleans dropped the nickname Hornets this season and Charlotte will take it back starting next season. ... The Pelicans won the only previous game this season, 105-84 in New Orleans on Nov. 2. ... The Pelicans were without F Ryan Anderson (herniated disc), G Jrue Holiday (stress fracture right tibia) and C Jason Smith (right knee). ... The Bobcats have not had C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) any this season, and have lost F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles) for the rest of the season. ... This was the start of a two-game road trip for the Pelicans. They will play at Washington on Saturday.