Jameer Nelson scored 32 points and
the Magic overcame Dwight Howard's continuing foul trouble and a loud,
towel-waving crowd in Charlotte's return to the playoff stage to beat
the Bobcats 90-86 on Saturday, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in their
Howard played only 26 minutes and
fouled out with 3:32 left. But Nelson had a key bucket down the stretch
and backup center Marcin Gortat hit two free throws with 12 seconds
left to put it away.
Stephen Jackson scored 19 points, but was 6-of-18 from the field and missed a key 3-pointer in the final minute for the Bobcats.
For the third straight game, Howard
played about half the game, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds
and seven blocks, but the Magic can clinch a spot in the second round
with a victory here in Game 4 Monday.
The cold-shooting Bobcats, meanwhile, face the prospect of a first-round sweep in their first playoff appearance.
Charlotte hadn't hosted a playoff
game since the Hornets' last year here in 2002 before bolting for New
Orleans. But with excited owner Michael Jordan squirming in his seat
and relaying pointers to players from the end of Charlotte's bench, the six-year-old Bobcats wilted in a tight fourth quarter despite the biggest
crowd in franchise history.
Nelson's floater in the lane with
1:32 left put Orlando ahead 85-82. After an empty possession for each
team, Raymond Felton's driving layup with 52 seconds left cut the lead
Nelson then missed a contested layup,
giving Charlotte the ball with 31 seconds left. But Jackson was badly
short on a straightaway 3-point attempt.
Vince Carter hit two free throws at
the other end, Felton missed a shot in the lane, and Gortat then hit
3-of-4 free throws to put it away.
Howard fouled out after picking up
his last two fouls in 11 seconds. The first came after he tangled with
Tyson Chandler in the post on the offensive end, the second when he
tried to contest Felton's driving layup.
Felton's ensuing free throw put Charlotte ahead 80-79.
The Bobcats immediately went small,
putting in an extra guard, but Rashard Lewis responded with two strong
drives to the hoop and four free throws to put Orlando ahead for good.
Lewis added 14 points for Orlando, which overcame 9-of-30 3-point shooting.
Gerald Wallace scored 13 points on
4-of-12 shooting for Charlotte. Felton also scored 13, but shot 5-of-14
and again couldn't contain Nelson.
The crowd was giddy when Howard had
three fouls – and a technical to boot from referee Joe Crawford — with
10:40 left in the first half after getting called for an offensive foul
tangling with Chandler in the post.
It didn't matter early with Nelson
dominating. As in his 32-point effort in Game 1, Nelson constantly beat
Felton off the dribble for easy layups when he wasn't hitting
3-pointers. His four-point play that included the sight of Felton
flailing away in attempt to grab him, gave Orlando a 29-27 lead after
the first quarter.
But with Howard on the bench, the
Bobcats built a 41-33 second-quarter lead on the strength of two
3-pointers from Larry Hughes, who was 2-of-7 from the field in the
Nelson got hot again in the third
quarter in Orlando's 11-0 spurt to retake the lead. But Howard was
called for his fourth foul with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
The Magic pounded the ball into Howard early in the fourth quarter with mixed results, thanks to suspect free-throw shooting.
Lewis shot 4-for-11 from the
field playing with a sore left ankle. … Chandler and Orlando's Matt
Barnes and Gortat also picked up technical fouls. … The crowd of
19,596 was the largest to see the Bobcats in Charlotte's five-year-old
arena. … After qualifying was rained out at Talladega, NASCAR driver
Denny Hamlin quickly flew to Charlotte to use his season tickets. …
David Thompson, Tubby Smith, Robert Parish and Nelly were also in