Magic bounce Bobcats
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the final seconds ticked down, Dwight Howard was back in his familiar spot on the bench and coach Stan Van Gundy was steamed at his superstar for fouling out again.
Then the buzzer sounded and the Orlando Magic became the first team to advance in the NBA playoffs.
Who needs Howard? Not these deep Magic — at least not in the first round.
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 last 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.
"If you would have told me that he would have averaged well under 30 minutes for the series and we would sweep, I would have said you're crazy," Van Gundy said. "I think it's a testament to our other guys."
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 overcome Howard's 22 fouls in the series.
"He and I got into it a little bit," Van Gundy said about their sideline exchange in the last minute. "It wasn't a bad argument. My point was he was in the restricted area and he's got to jump. He's so frustrated now that what he was trying to say is it wouldn't matter. But, well, let's jump and find out. What he did was give them the call."
Tyrus Thomas scored a career playoff-high 21 points for the Bobcats, whose focus will now immediately turn to nomadic coach Larry Brown's future with the team.
Brown, who has had 13 pro and college coaching jobs, continues to be the focus of reports for openings around the NBA, including Philadelphia, where his wife and kids live.
But he repeated that he'll only coach for Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.
"I'm not coaching anywhere but Charlotte," Brown said. "Now am I going to go home and talk to my wife and kids? I'll be 70 years old with two young kids. Am I going to talk to them and find out what I need to do and am I going to talk to Michael? Yeah, absolutely."
Brown was down after the 6-year-old Bobcats again wilted in a close game in their first playoff appearance.
After Charlotte cut Orlando's lead to one on Tyson Chandler's two free throws, Mickael Pietrus hit consecutive 3-pointers to put the Magic ahead 83-76 with 5:47 left.
Nelson's 3-pointer less than a minute later put it away for the Magic, whose only previous playoff sweep was a 3-0 victory over Detroit in 1996.
"They're better," Brown said. "They know how to play playoff basketball. We haven't figured it out yet."