NBA: Magic beat Bobcats 99-90 to complete sweep
By MIKE CRANSTON
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dwight Howard kept collecting fouls, and all the Orlando Magic did was become the first team to advance in the NBA playoffs.
Vince Carter scored 21 points, Jameer Nelson added 18 and the Magic showcased their depth and pressure shot-making in a 99-90 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night to complete a sweep of their first-round series.
Howard was held to six points in his fourth straight game in foul trouble, but the Magic never flinched to accomplish their first four-game sweep in franchise history. Orlando will face the Atlanta-Milwaukee winner in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Tyrus Thomas scored a career playoff-high 21 points for the Bobcats, whose focus will now almost immediately turn to nomadic coach Larry Brown's future with the team.
Howard did grab 13 rebounds, but was limited to 23 minutes before fouling out for the second straight game. The Magic, though, got key contributions and big shots from others.
Rashard Lewis scored 17 points, Matt Barnes added 14 and Orlando held Stephen Jackson to 2-of-11 shooting to make sure Charlotte would be the only team not to win a first-round game.
After Charlotte cut Orlando's lead to one on Tyson Chandler's two free throws, Mickael Pietrus hit consecutive 3-pointers directly across the floor from Bobcats owner Michael Jordan's seat to put the Magic ahead 83-76 with 5:47 left.
Nelson's 3-pointer less than a minute later — after Gerald Wallace missed two free throws — put it away for the Magic, whose only previous playoff sweep was a 3-0 victory over Detroit in 1996.
They made quick work of the Bobcats, whose first playoff appearance turned into a miserable offensive exhibition. Charlotte couldn't take advantage of Howard's long stints on the bench — and now has to wonder if its coach will be back.
Brown, in the second season of his 13th head coaching job in college and the pros, said two weeks ago that Jordan is "the only guy I'm going to coach for." But Jordan said last month he wouldn't hold the 69-year-old Brown to his contract if he wanted to leave for family reasons.
Brown's wife and children live in Philadelphia, and Brown could hold true to his word if he left for a job such as team president with the 76ers and hired his own coach.
Asked during his pregame media availability if this series could help the team in the future, a cranky Brown snapped it would be "stupid" to think about next season, while he continued to bash Charlotte's deficiencies.
They were magnified by Howard's absence.
The four-time All-Star's endless foul trouble entering the game made him the focus of ribbing in the morning shootaround. Teammates told him instead of Superman, his nickname was now "Foul on You." Howard played along in raising his arm and clenching his fist as if to call a foul.
But while Howard joked around, coach Stan Van Gundy was more serious. He had Howard watch video of his frustration fouls on Sunday, and stressed he had to keep his cool against Charlotte's wave of three physical centers.
It didn't work. Howard was called for two fouls in 16 seconds in the first quarter, the second for tripping. He picked up his third for challenging D.J. Augustin after he had released a reverse layup that turned into a three-point play.
With Howard on the bench, the Bobcats built a 38-31 lead on the strength of Thomas, who hit his first eight shots.
Orlando cut the deficit to 45-43 at halftime and took the lead on a run that included Carter's first made 3-pointer after an 0-for-15 start to the series.
Howard was called for his fourth foul on Raymond Felton's drive with 6:58 left in the third quarter — and stayed on the bench for nearly 10 minutes.
The Magic, though, maintained the lead. After Chandler smothered Carter on his drive to the hoop and was called for a flagrant-1 foul, Carter hit two free throws to put Orlando ahead 77-73 with 9:35 left.
Howard checked in a minute later, and stayed on the floor until he fouled out with 54 seconds left, finishing with 22 fouls in the series.
NOTES: Van Gundy was hit with a third-quarter technical foul by Sean Corbin, his second of the series ... With an accidental elbow and a hard foul, Magic C Marcin Gortat knocked out Pietrus (bloody nose) and Augustin (lower back contusion) within a minute. Both returned. ... Orlando G and former Duke star J.J. Redick was booed constantly, a byproduct of the intense Duke-North Carolina rivalry. Howard joked they booed Redick every time he touched the ball in shootaround to get him ready. ... Howard declined comment on a Yahoo! Sports report he's dropped agent Aaron Goodwin.