ORLANDO (AP) The last time Charlotte came to Orlando, Stephen Jackson was suiting up for his first game since being traded to the Bobcats and predicting his new team would make the playoffs.
Such a statement might have seemed laughable back in November. Now, Jackson seems to have Charlotte headed for its first postseason berth in franchise history.
Jackson scored 28 points, Raymond Felton had 16 and the Bobcats held on to tie a franchise record with their sixth straight victory, 96-89 over the Magic on Sunday night
“I think big win is an understatement,” Jackson said. “We’re starting to win games we’re supposed to win, and we’re getting big wins, too.”
Stephen Graham added 12 points to help the Bobcats pull away with a late 12-3 run for their first win in four chances this season against the Southeast Division leader. And they did it without All-Star Gerald Wallace, out with an injured left ankle.
After winning the last seven games against Charlotte, the defending Eastern Conference champion Magic can easily see the biggest difference with their division foe.
“Stephen Jackson,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “He’s good for that team. He’s playing well. He’s definitely stepped up their level as a team. The intensity that he brings to the game offensively, defensively, the emotions, everything, is a positive for that team.”
Dwight Howard had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Vince Carter finished with 23 points for the Magic, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped. Mickael Pietrus added 20 points in place of injured starter Matt Barnes, sidelined with a sprained left big toe.
“We weren’t very good at anything,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We didn’t rebound. We didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t shoot well. We didn’t defend. We just weren’t very good at anything.”
This one belonged to the Bobcats.
The up-and-down Bobcats have now beaten Cleveland, Orlando and the Lakers this season and are jostling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Yet they’ve lost twice to a New Jersey team that’s challenging for the worst record in NBA history.
All after starting 3-7 without Jackson this season, seemingly headed for another year in the conference’s cellar. Then the Golden State Warriors granted the disgruntled swingman’s wish, sending him to Charlotte in a four-player deal.
“If he is not an All-Star in this league, I don’t know who is,” Charlotte’s Theo Ratliff said. “It is time people recognize what he does on the floor.”
This Bobcats’ win wouldn’t come without bumps.
They had a shot-clock violation, an inbounds-pass violation and several passes that went awry in the opening half. Couple that with some spotty defense in the paint, and Howard had the Magic ahead by six points early.
Charlotte came back and went ahead by five before the half after Howard got in foul trouble. The Bobcats cleaned up some of those mistakes and held on to a slim lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Jason Williams’ 3-pointer brought the Magic within 72-71 to start the final period. That did little to rattle Charlotte or ignite an Orlando team that was sluggish a night after winning in Washington.
The Bobcats battled with Howard inside, frustrating the Magic center. He was called for an offensive foul for extending his arm into Tyson Chandler. And after throwing the ball to the corner and arguing with officials, Howard was whistled for his 14th technical foul of the season.
That was all part of a 12-3 run for the Bobcats that pushed them ahead 84-74 about halfway through the fourth. The Magic trimmed the lead to 84-81 on a 3-pointer by Pietrus with 4:13 remaining, but Charlotte’s relentless defensive pressure kept it in front for good.
“It definitely shows the growth of this team and shows how guys are committed to getting to the playoffs,” Jackson said. “I am very glad to be a part of this.”
NOTES: Charlotte has won six straight three times in its history, including earlier this season … Orlando would have tied a franchise record with nine straight wins, done in 1994 and 2001. … Yankees ace CC Sabathia still managed to arrive for the second half after pitching four innings and giving up five runs in a 10-5 loss to the Pirates in Bradenton earlier Sunday.