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
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
“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.”