Bobcats 109, Hawks 100

Not only have the Charlotte Bobcats never made the playoffs,
they’ve also never had a player record a triple-double.

The six-year-old franchise moved closer to that elusive
postseason berth on Tuesday night, even if they fumbled Boris
Diaw’s chances of accomplishing the latter.

Gerald Wallace scored 28 points, Diaw finished with 17 points,
nine rebounds and nine assists, and the Bobcats ensured their first
non-losing season with a 109-100 victory over the banged-up Atlanta
Hawks.

As the Bobcats (41-36) can finish no worse than .500, it led to
a jovial atmosphere in the locker room as they argued over who was
responsible for Diaw missing out.

Was it Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Raymond Felton or Derrick
Brown?

“He had a rebound and Gerald took it. We had just told
Gerald,” coach Larry Brown said, smiling. “Then we ran a play for
him and Jack curled and had a six-footer and missed it. Then I took
everybody out and Derrick had a layup.”

Wallace had his own take.

“If I hadn’t went for that rebound, he would have been,
‘Rebound!”’ he said of Brown. “No, I didn’t know about the
rebound. I knew about the assist and Jack and Ray stunk that
up.”

While Charlotte saw its magic number to clinch a playoff berth
sliced to two after Chicago lost to Milwaukee, the Hawks remained a
game ahead of Boston in the race for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern
Conference after the Celtics lost in New York.

But Atlanta’s hopes of reaching 50 wins for the first time in 12
years were squashed as it fell behind by 20 points after the first
quarter with plenty of different faces on the floor.

Maurice Evans scored 20 points, while Jamal Crawford and Josh
Smith added 18 apiece for the Hawks, who played without top scorer
Joe Johnson (sprained thumb) and point guard Mike Bibby (ingrown
toenail).

“I think we were all a little tense at the beginning,” said Al
Horford, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The Bobcats took advantage, building leads of 34-14 after the
first quarter and 59-36 at halftime behind Wallace, who had 22
points at the break.

“It felt good because we didn’t have to work too hard
tonight,” said Jackson, who added 15 points despite a variety of
injuries. “We didn’t have to play for the whole fourth
quarter.”

Atlanta got within nine on several occasions in the fourth, but
Wallace and Diaw were there to end the Hawks’ comeback hopes as
Charlotte split the season series in a possible first-round playoff
preview.

Only the Hawks hope this is nothing like they’ll look like in
the postseason.

Johnson, averaging 21.2 points, didn’t travel and will miss his
third straight game Wednesday in Detroit after first being injured
last week. Bibby, who had an ingrown toenail removed on Monday, was
scratched after experiencing too much pain at the morning
shootaround.

Hawks coach Mike Woodson wanted to keep Crawford in his
sixth-man role, so Evans started for Johnson and rookie Jeff Teague
for Bibby.

Neither were impressive early. Teague struggled running the
offense and the Bobcats went at Evans defensively. But the biggest
problem was that nobody could guard Wallace.

He kept getting easy baskets inside and in transition, scoring
14 points in the first quarter. Smith picked up his third foul on
the first of Wallace’s two three-point plays to close the half.

Crawford started the second half, while Teague, in his second
pro start, missed his first seven shots as the Hawks lost their
fifth straight on the road.

“After the first quarter, I thought we competed very, very
well,” Crawford said.

Jackson shot 5 of 9 for Charlotte despite a painful hamstring
injury that kept him out of the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss
to Chicago. It helped the Bobcats improve to 30-9 at home as owner
Michael Jordan took in the game from his front-row seat.

Only Jordan just missed seeing a triple-double, something he
accomplished 30 times.

“Boris,” Wallace said, looking into a TV camera, “I
apologize.”

NOTES: Woodson said Johnson was feeling better and could return
Friday against Toronto. … Bibby was soaking his foot before the
game and said a doctor removed half of his left big toenail on
Monday. “He said it was almost infected, so he had to cut it
out,” said Bibby, who added he hoped to play Wednesday in Detroit.
… Bobcats C Theo Ratliff started, but will miss Wednesday’s game
in New Orleans to attend his grandmother’s funeral. … Bobcats F
Tyrus Thomas dislocated his left thumb late in the game, but
returned to the bench and said he’d play Wednesday. … Hawks C
Zaza Pachulia (hip flexor) sat out the second half.