Bobcats beat Hornets, clinch 1st playoff spot

By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Charlotte Bobcats clinched their first playoff berth since their founding
six years ago, as Stephen Jackson scored 29 points and D.J. Augustin hit a
crucial 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in a 104-103 victory over the New Orleans
Hornets on Wednesday night.

Charlotte blew a 26-point lead and trailed by as much as
eight in the fourth quarter before clawing back, helped in large part by
Augustin, a New Orleans native, who hit three 3s in the fourth quarter.

His last gave Charlotte a 102-100 lead.

Darren Collison had a chance to tie it, but his leaner
missed in the final seconds and Raymond Felton made a pair of free throws before
Marcus Thornton, who had 36 points, hit a meaningless 3 as time expired.

Tyson Chandler had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five
blocked shots in his return to New Orleans for the first time since being traded
to Charlotte in exchange for Emeka Okafor. Okafor had seven points and nine
rebounds.

Augustin finished with 14 points for the Bobcats, while
Felton had 12 and Boris Diaw 10.

Collison had 24 points and nine assists for the Hornets.
David West added 13 points.

Charlotte led by 22 to start the second half, and with
Toronto’s loss to Boston needed only to protect that lead to secure the first
playoff berth for the franchise, which filled the void left by the Hornets’ move
from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002.

Instead, the Bobcats fell apart and were outscored 40-19
in the third quarter, with the Hornets’ rookie backcourt of Collison and
Thornton doing most of the damage.

Collison had 12 points in the period and Thornton eight.
New Orleans closed the quarter on a 14-2 run, with Collison’s 18-foot jumper
cutting Charlotte’s lead to 79-78.

Thornton then opened the fourth quarter with an
aggressive driving dunk along the baseline that sent the crowd into a frenzy,
and New Orleans held a slim lead much of the period, going up by as much as
97-89 on James Posey’s transition 3 from the left wing with 3:44 to go.

Charlotte stormed back to tie it with an 8-0 run,
highlighted by Gerald Wallace’s layup as he was fouled and Augustin’s 3 with
2:17 left.

New Orleans’ last lead was 100-99 after Collison’s
driving layup with 44 seconds to go. Neither team scored again until Augustin’s
big 3.

Charlotte dominated the first half, closing the first
quarter on a 10-0 run that eventually became a 14-0 spurt on Derrick Brown’s
free throws in the second quarter, which gave the Bobcats a 36-21 lead.

Charlotte continued to pull away, leading by 22 on
Chandler’s putback. Soon after, Chandler blocked West twice, the second time
forcing a jump ball.

Hornets coach Jeff Bower was furious that no foul was
called on Chandler and stomped onto the court to argue, drawing a pair of
technical fouls from official Bob Delaney, the second triggering an automatic
ejection.

The Hornets were 4 of 18 during the second quarter and
trailed 55-29 after Jackson’s fast-break dunk. Late in the half, Thornton and
Collison combined to score seven straight points to trim New Orleans’ deficit to
19 before Diaw’s 3 made it 60-38 at halftime.

NOTES: Had the Hornets held on, it would have been their
largest comeback ever. Instead, the largest deficit the franchise has overcome
remains 22 points against Boston in November 1995. … Thornton has scored 20 or
more 19 times this season, the most by a rookie not selected in the first round
since Dino Radja did it 23 times during the 1993-94 season for the Boston
Celtics. … Chandler entered the game averaging 6.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.
… Augustin’s former New Orleans high school, Brother Martin, won the Louisiana
Class 5A state boys’ basketball championship this season.

Updated April 7, 2010