NBA

Bobcats find way to stay in East playoff race

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

The Bobcats changed coaches after a terrible start and traded away their only All-Star. Their top scorer has a chronic hamstring injury and is dangerously close to a one-game suspension.

They played their most recent game without a center and saw their top two point guards sidelined with injuries in a one-minute span.

And yet Charlotte has won three straight and sits only a game out of a playoff spot.

Perhaps it's only possible in the forgiving bottom half of the Eastern Conference, but the Bobcats (31-42) are making no apologies for sticking around in a season that's featured a little bit of everything.

''It just shows me that the guys really want it. They're not going to give up,'' coach Paul Silas said Tuesday. ''They're going to keep working hard. Everybody's contributing and that's what's most important.''

With so few players available, Tuesday's practice featured little more than tossing a football around and playing shooting games. But after somehow pulling out a crucial victory a night earlier against Milwaukee, Silas felt it was the right time to rest.

With starting center Kwame Brown dealing with a family emergency and backup Joel Przybilla sidelined with knee pain, the Bobcats had no centers against the Bucks. They then lost starting point guard D.J. Augustin (sprained left ankle, bruised right knee) and backup Shaun Livingston (bruised tailbone) early in the fourth quarter and fell behind by nine points.

All they did was hold the Bucks scoreless over the final 3:52. Gerald Henderson, barely used under former coach Larry Brown before being thrust into the starting lineup when Gerald Wallace was traded to Portland, scored the game's final seven points in an 87-86 victory.

Boris Diaw, who may have to play some point guard Wednesday against Cleveland if Augustin and Livingston are out, played center in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee. Stephen Jackson, who said his left hamstring strain is ''getting better,'' had to play power forward and avoided a suspension-inducing 16th technical foul of the season.

Dante Cunningham, a bit player in Portland before being acquired in the Wallace deal, played in crunch time. Garrett Temple, who was in the NBA Development League earlier this month, played the final 10 minutes at point guard and hit a big 3-pointer.

Temple, who had been on a second 10-day contract, was signed for the remainder of the season just before the game.

''I guess it was a good move because we needed a third point guard,'' he said.

The win kept the Bobcats a game behind eighth-place Indiana in the East and moved them two ahead of 10th place Milwaukee. The resurgence came after an embarrassing 23-point home loss to the Pacers last week left many thinking owner Michael Jordan's team was out of the postseason equation.

''Obviously, it took a lot of wind out of our sails,'' Henderson acknowledged.

But two nights later, Charlotte staged a stirring comeback with Jackson sidelined to become the first East team to win at Boston. A victory over New York followed a day later before another improbable comeback against the Bucks makes the playoffs possible again.

''I've seen crazier things happen,'' Jackson said.

The volatile Jackson sure has in his well documented career. But Jackson has also effectively led this team after the Wallace trade stunned the team.

''I've been on five NBA teams and I think this is the most close-knit group,'' Temple said. ''We have team barbecues. Everybody jokes around with each other. We're laughing in the locker room.

''When you go into battle you want people that you're close with and that you know have your back. And we're going through a battle right now trying to get this eighth playoff spot.''

The Bobcats have nine games left and the Pacers seven. Indiana holds the tiebreaker, so the Bobcats need to make up two games and get healthy quick. Augustin is hoping to play Wednesday and Kwame Brown is expected back.

It would just be another obstacle to overcome for a franchise in which even the support staff gets hurt. Assistant coach Charles Oakley has been away from the team for nearly two weeks with a severe back injury. Play-by-play announcer Steve Martin is in a walking boot.

''I think,'' Silas said, ''we have a pretty good shot of doing this thing.''

Tagged: Stephen Jackson, Kwame Brown, Hornets, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Garrett Temple

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