ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The last time the Charlotte Bobcats were in Orlando, an injury forced Byron Mullens to watch as his teammates scrapped their way to a narrow win.
This time, he made sure his presence was felt.
Mullens had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson scored 24 points apiece, and the Bobcats survived a second-half comeback to hold off the Orlando Magic 105-92 on Tuesday night.
For Mullens it was his third time in five games he had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, and proof that there is still life on a team far out of the postseason race. Mullens said a strong second half is contingent upon not mentally conceding that point.
“I told the guys earlier today that there are 30 games left and we could still make the playoffs,” he said. “We can all put our heads down and just ride it out, or we can just fight for it. The team is growing and we are fighting, so that is showing a big part.”
The Bobcats have won two of their last three and also snapped a string of seven consecutive road losses. Charlotte returns home to begin a three-game home stand on Wednesday against Detroit.
“We’re getting traction,” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said. “It proves that all the close games that we have played, some won, some lost, (and) we’re improving still. And our young guys, you can see how much they’re improving.”
Nikola Vucevic had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Arron Afflalo 18 points to lead the Magic, who have lost 25 of their last 28, including 13 of 15 at home.
Like their division-mates, the Magic began the official second half of the season already well out of playoff contention.
Still, many of the bad habits that helped them tumble recently were prevalent again, as bad shooting exacerbated slowness on defense.
For the night, Orlando held a 20-8 edge on second-chance points, but was outscored 18-10 on fast breaks.
“Bad basketball. Bad defense. They (Charlotte) didn’t seem to have a problem with energy, or a layoff or anything like that. Just bad,” Magic guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody was out there making mistakes. The NBA is about team defense. For the last 28 games we’ve been pretty awful on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Magic and Bobcats entered the night with NBA’s two worst winning percentages, and showed why at different times during the game.
In the first half it was Orlando that had trouble making baskets and just generally taking care of the ball while falling behind by 20.
Charlotte took its turn tripping over itself in the second half, watching an early lead get cut in half in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
That helped the Magic trim what had been a 22-point lead in the first half to single digits in the opening minutes of the fourth.
Orlando continued to chip away and eventually three free throws by Afflalo trimmed Charlotte’s lead all the way to 90-88 with just 4 minutes to play.
Charlotte responded, turning more bad Magic possessions into easy baskets and pushed its advantage back to 100-92 on a dunk by Henderson with just over a minute left.
Charlotte did what it wanted offensively as it built a 63-43 halftime lead.
It didn’t hurt that the Bobcats shot 59 percent (26 for 44) in the half, while the Magic struggled throughout, shooting 38 percent (18 for 47).
The Magic led by a point early in the first quarter, before falling into a hole as quick shots and shaky ball handling added up to a 14-2 edge by Charlotte in fast-break points.
Orlando also got little production from its bench early on, as Redick connected on just 1 of his first 6 shots.
“We dug ourselves a pretty deep hole,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “To be down 20 at halftime, we gave ourselves a chance. We fought back in the third quarter. Probably one of our better defensive quarters of the entire year. … It was great to see.”
The Magic will now try to turn the page Wednesday when they begin a two-game road trip at Dallas.
Walker, who has scored at least 24 points in each of the meetings with Orlando this season, said he liked the toughness his team showed.
“I just happen to play well against them,” he said. “We came out strong. We played well throughout the whole game. Those guys made a run, but we stuck with it. I want to see more of that. We had opportunities to win a lot of close games, but we’ve lost them.
“I want to see us, when things get tough, get tougher.”
NOTES: Vucevic’s double-double was his 30th of the season. … Magic F Andrew Nicholson’s 12 rebounds were a career-high. … The Bobcats’ 37-point first quarter was their most productive opening period this season. … The Magic play 20 of their final 29 games against teams that would make the playoffs if the season had ended at the All-Star break.