ORLANDO, Fla. – Jameer Nelson scored 24 of his 32 points in the first half, and the Orlando Magic nearly blew a 22-point lead before beating the Charlotte Bobcats 98-89 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Sunday.
Rashard Lewis added 19 points, and Dwight Howard had nine blocks but was limited offensively and in foul trouble for most of the second half.
Gerald Wallace had 25 points, and Stephen Jackson played through a hyperextended left knee to finish with 18 points in the Bobcats’ first playoff game in franchise history.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night in Orlando.
Charlotte swarmed and slapped Howard on every opportunity near the rim to frustrate the Magic’s all-star centre. Howard had five points and seven rebounds, and was 1-for-6 on free throws.
His absence left the Magic grounded.
Wallace’s free throws trimmed Orlando’s lead to 85-80 late in the fourth, and had the Bobcats on the brink of a stunning upset.
Howard then returned with a put-back dunk, Mickael Pietrus had a 3-pointer and the Magic eventually went ahead 92-84 to put the game out of reach.
Charlotte’s gritty comeback attempt at least provided them with some hope that this series might not be so lopsided. Making their playoff debut for the first time in six seasons as a franchise, the Bobcats came out slow.
Nelson left Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin in the dust early, much to the dismay of new Bobcats majority owner Michael Jordan sitting on the baseline. But Orlando would implode with Howard sidelined as Charlotte twice battled back from big deficits and overcame what could have been a catastrophic blow.
Wallace dived for a loose ball and collided with Jackson late in the second quarter. Jackson laid on the floor in pain, and Nelson pushed the ball down court to hit a three-pointer at the first-half buzzer.
Jackson was carried off the floor, and the entire Bobcats team came over to check on him as they walked to the locker room. He got up after about a minute, limping to the locker room and playing through the injury.
Jackson scored 10 points in the second half, but he sat out the final minutes of the fourth because of the injury.
The Bobcats went down 65-43 on a three-pointer by Rashard Lewis early in the third quarter. Howard would pick up his fourth foul, and the frustration began to set in for the Magic.
Carter, who shot just 4-for-19, was whistled for a technical in the third quarter after arguing with officials. Carter would foul out late in the fourth, and the Bobcats rallied to make it a tight game to the finish.
NOTES: Jackson also was called for a technical foul in the first quarter after yelling an expletive at the official. … Bobcats coach Larry Brown was calm and cool before the game in his return to the playoffs, except for one thing: “My biggest concern is we haven’t been on (national) TV (in so long), I don’t know how I’m going to act,” he said, laughing. … Howard’s six blocks in the first quarter were a team playoff record.