Bobcats find way to stay in East playoff race

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.”