CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Orlando quickly ended Charlotte's first postseason appearance a year ago. The Magic on Wednesday night helped make sure the Bobcats won't make a return trip this season.
Yet it sure was ugly, difficult and perhaps costly, too.
Gilbert Arenas scored 25 points, and the Magic overcame Quentin Richardson's ejection, Dwight Howard's 18th technical foul and a late fourth-quarter meltdown to beat Charlotte 111-102 in overtime and extinguish the Bobcats' flickering playoff hopes.
Jameer Nelson atoned for two turnovers in the closing seconds of regulation by hitting a jumper and banking in a 3-pointer in Orlando's 12-2 run to open the extra period to secure its fourth consecutive 50-win season.
``The guys wanted to get to 50,' coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``It was good to get. We still didn't play great, but we'll take it.'
A year after sweeping the Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs, Orlando ended Charlotte's postseason hopes and allowed Indiana to clinch the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
``It's tough, man,' said guard D.J. Augustin, who missed a reverse layup at the regulation buzzer. ``We've been thinking about the playoffs since we started the season.'
Gerald Henderson scored a career-high 32 points for the Bobcats and was the receiving end of Richardson's two-handed shove to the face early in the fourth quarter that could lead to a suspension.
Howard, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and six blocks, is facing another one-game suspension - for Sunday's matchup with East-leading Chicago - after again failing to control his temper following his second 10-second violation on a free throw attempt in as many nights.
``I don't see a lot of people getting called for it,' Howard said. ``I was really upset about it.'
The Bobcats played a fourth straight game - all losses - without top scorer Stephen Jackson, who told coach Paul Silas he was going to play. But he couldn't get his troublesome left hamstring loose in pregame warmups.
After blowing an 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the nine-man Bobcats staged a dramatic comeback to nearly win it in regulation.
Orlando was up five with a minute left and 96-93 when Kwame Brown deflected Nelson's pass, leading to Augustin's tying 3-point attempt with 16 seconds left.
After a timeout, Nelson ran down the clock until Augustin pickpocketed him. He drove in for the winning layup, but Nelson made him go to the opposite side of the hoop, and the ball rolled off the rim at the buzzer.
``I tried to reverse it to my stronger hand,' said Augustin, who added he was hit on the play. ``It just didn't roll in.'
Orlando quickly ended the suspense by scoring the first nine points of OT for its eighth straight win over Charlotte.
Having already locked up the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, Van Gundy sat guard Jason Richardson, who has been playing through tendinitis in his left knee.
But while Howard and Quentin Richardson now may be facing forced time off, the Magic got good news from Arenas, who started and scored the most points since being acquired by Orlando. He shot 9 of 14, but struggled to contain Henderson at the other end.
Henderson shattered his previous career high of 22 points by hitting 12 of 22 shots.
``I think Gerald is going to get there,' Silas said. ``He really works hard, as hard as anyone I've ever seen. It's coming.'
Henderson was in the middle of the strangest play of the night.
He was trying to dribble out of pressure early in the fourth quarter when Richardson was called for a foul. Upset over an elbow from Henderson earlier in the play, Richardson confronted Henderson and poked him in his right eye.
Henderson shoved him before Richardson put both open hands on Henderson's face and jerked his head backward.
``Henderson caught him a couple times in the mouth,' Howard said of Richardson, who declined comment. ``Q had a busted lip and I guess he just got tired of it.'
``You saw what happened,' countered Henderson. ``He decided to put his finger in my face and pushed my face.'
The Bobcats, who led by as many as 12 points in the first half, couldn't hold on as owner Michael Jordan watched his team eliminated from the playoff race for the sixth time in seven seasons.
``We wanted to be there,' Silas said, ``but I think something good always comes out of where you are.'
Notes: Van Gundy said Jason Richardson has been playing in pain for some time. ``We targeted this time because we're going to take a couple days off after this game and he can get now three straight days of rest,' Van Gundy said. ... Silas said tests showed F Tyrus Thomas has not sustained more damage to his surgically repaired left knee and the swelling has subsided, but he remains in too much pain to play. ... While Silas had high praise for Howard, he thinks Chicago's Derrick Rose should get the nod for league MVP.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved