Bobcats-Nets Preview

After one game separated the Charlotte Bobcats and New Jersey

Nets in the standings last season, there could hardly be a bigger

gap between them now.

The Bobcats’ surge to the playoffs, however, hasn’t included a

strong performance against the NBA’s worst team.

The lowly Nets have won two of three against Charlotte, which

needs a victory in its final road game of the season and the Nets’

last game ever at the Izod Center on Monday night to avoid the

indignity of a season-series loss to New Jersey.

The Bobcats (43-37) have clinched the franchise’s first trip to

the postseason, winning 15 of their last 21 to secure at worst the

No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.

But they’ve struggled against New Jersey, joining Chicago and

New York as the only teams with multiple losses to the Nets. After

a 97-91 road defeat Dec. 4, Charlotte lost 103-94 at home Feb. 16,

snapping New Jersey’s 15-game road losing streak.

“I have no idea,” Nets center Brook Lopez said when asked to

explain New Jersey’s success against the Bobcats. “But I don’t mind

it at all.”

Not much separated the teams in 2008-09, with the Nets finishing

34-48 – one game behind Charlotte.

This season, New Jersey (12-68) had to deal with questions about

whether it would finish with the worst record in NBA history, but

the club has avoided that fate by going 5-5 in its last 10.

The Nets lost 115-102 at Indiana on Saturday night, but they’ve

won five of six at home.

New Jersey reached a deal with the state in February to move to

Newark’s Prudential Center until its new arena is built in Brooklyn

for the 2012-13 season.

Under the deal, the Nets will pay a $4 million penalty over two

years to get out of their lease at the Izod Center, their home

since 1981.

Charlotte has struggled on the road, going 12-28 – a foreboding

sign considering it won’t have home-court advantage in the first

round of the playoffs.

But a victory Monday would give the Bobcats 10 wins in their

final 21 road games, a stretch that includes a 96-89 win over

likely first-round opponent Orlando on March 14.

Charlotte is coming off a 99-95 home win over Detroit on

Saturday, getting a team-high 18 points in 26 minutes from Larry

Hughes. The veteran guard turned in his best performance since the

Bobcats signed him last month.

“It’s been a crazy year as far as getting in basketball rhythm,

getting in basketball shape,” Hughes said. “I’m here now.”

Hughes gave a boost to a Bobcats team that was playing without

Raymond Felton (flu) and Tyrus Thomas (thumb). Charlotte also

considered resting Gerald Wallace after Stephen Jackson sat out

Friday’s 97-90 loss at Houston.

The Bobcats’ top players may again see limited minutes against

the Nets. Charlotte has only a slim chance of improving its playoff

seeding and may prefer to be as fresh as possible to begin the

postseason.

“Winning is not the most important thing right now, but at the

same time, we want to still be solid,” Jackson said. “We want to go

out there and play well, we want to go out there and respect the

game and play the game the right way and go into the playoffs

feeling good about the way we’ve been playing.”