Magic set to make Bobcats disappear Thunder tie series with Lakers
By MIKE CRANSTON
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In front of a boisterous, hostile crowd and facing a team in desperation mode, the Orlando Magic showcased their depth, grit and poise when it mattered most.
Imagine how good they could be if their superstar center played more than half the game.
No Dwight Howard, no problem for the Magic, who got 32 points from sudden star Jameer Nelson to overcome another frustrating, foul-filled game by their big man in a 90-86 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats yesterday.
Spoiling Charlotte's return to the playoff stage after an eight-year absence, the Magic took a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round series despite being without Howard for the final 3:32 after he fouled out.
"You've got to admire them with Dwight getting foul trouble and fouling out how they still didn't fold," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "They were disciplined and executed. They got a well-deserved win."
For the third straight game and two days after Orlando was assessed $70,000 in fines for complaining about the officiating, Howard played about half the game, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
After Howard was sidelined for good, Nelson had a key bucket and backup center Marcin Gortat hit two free throws with 12 seconds left to put it away.
The defending Eastern Conference champions can clinch a spot in the second round with a win in Game 4 tomorrow.
"I think this is a big test for me, learning how to keep my composure in tough situations," said Howard, who has played in only 83 of 144 minutes in the series because of chronic foul trouble.