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Magic-Bobcats Preview

Apr 23, 2010 - 7:25 PM By MIKE CRANSTON AP Sports Writer

Orlando At Charlotte, Game Three, 2:00 p.m. EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Paul Silas remembers how strange and uncomfortable it was in 2002 when he coached an unwanted team in a city that had turned its back on the NBA.

Silas looked into the stands for the opening game of the playoffs and saw 9,505 fans in the 23,799-seat Charlotte Coliseum. The final game - a second-round playoff loss to New Jersey - drew less than 14,000. Days later, the Hornets were officially property of New Orleans.

"It was kind of disheartening and disconcerting because we did have a good team," Silas recalled Friday. "It was very difficult. It was really bad at that particular point."

Eight years later, a new team with a different name and colors owned by favorite son Michael Jordan will play in front of a full house in a new downtown arena on Saturday, Charlotte's first taste of the playoffs since the Hornets' ugly exit.

And the six-year-old Bobcats need all the support they can get down 2-0 to powerful Orlando in their best-of-seven series.

"It's going to be crazy," Bobcats guard Raymond Felton said. "It's something the city of Charlotte has been waiting on."

But will the shift in venue matter? The Bobcats have looked overmatched for much of the first two games in Orlando.

Dwight Howard's foul trouble and a less-than-stellar offense haven't mattered. The Magic have smothered Charlotte with defense and just enough 3-pointers, showing all the confidence of a team that made it to the finals last season.

Not even the prospect of Jordan's imposing, referee-baiting presence at the end of the Bobcats' bench for Game 3 seems to bother the Magic and feisty coach Stan Van Gundy.

"Come on, Michael Jordan hasn't had time to do anything as an owner," Van Gundy said when asked of his impact since buying the team. "I understand we're all supposed to bow down at the alter of Michael Jordan, but come now. Not in this case. He's been the owner for what, a month?"

For his part, Jordan is a little cranky, too. He watched his new $275 million toy fall behind 24-12 in Game 1 and 13-3 three nights later. Coach Larry Brown said his team, which dropped to 13-30 on the road this season, hasn't adjusted to the increased intensity of the playoffs.

"I even got a call from my owner last night during the Chicago game. telling me, 'Are you watching this? Do you see how hard they're playing?"' Brown said of Jordan. "And it was obvious to me he was right."

So what to do for a team that's led for all of 93 seconds in two games? Brown insists the Bobcats can't change their drive-first, shun-3-pointers style that produced 44 wins and the team's first playoff berth - even with the NBA's defensive player of the year clogging the middle.

"Even though Dwight Howard is there, or Shaq is there, we drive the ball," Brown said. "We can't all of a sudden change who we are."

Charlotte also needs Stephen Jackson to cut down on his turnovers (12 in two games), get All-Star Gerald Wallace more involved, Felton and Boris Diaw out of their funks, and more than just a collection of fouls from centers Tyson Chandler, Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff.

"Tyson playing 12-14 minutes and Theo and Nazr getting in foul trouble in warmups, that's not helping," Brown said.

The Magic have been even more upset with the number of fouls in the series, specifically on Howard. Van Gundy and Matt Barnes were each fined $35,000 for criticizing the officials after Orlando's 92-77 win on Wednesday.

Howard has been held to 20 points and 57 minutes in the two games, but Rashard Lewis (13 of 23 from the field) and Mickael Pietrus (7 of 11 from 3-point range) have made up the difference.

Lewis expects to play Saturday afternoon despite a sore left ankle, but the Magic know they'll have to play better to take a 3-0 lead.

Orlando has allowed fourth-quarter comebacks in each of the first two games to get Charlotte within striking distance. And no team had a wider home-road record discrepancy than the Bobcats, who went 31-10 at Time Warner Cable Arena during the regular season.

"We know it's going to be crazy. The place is going to be rocking there," Howard said. "We know they're going to be very hyped, they're going to come out with a lot of energy. We just have to weather the storm and play basketball."

The last time a team with Charlotte on the front of its jerseys won an NBA playoff series was against the Tracy McGrady-led Magic in 2002. The Hornets then lost to the Nets in five games, a series Silas is convinced would have ended differently if his team had any kind of home-court advantage.

Silas is out of basketball these days, but has followed the Bobcats closely while living in the Charlotte area and thinks Jordan's purchase is a big boost for the franchise's fortunes.

Silas won't be at the arena Saturday, but will attend Game 4 on Monday.

"This is my home, I love Charlotte, and I really didn't want to see the team to leave," Silas said of the Hornets. "They got a team back here and they weren't accepted early on. But in the ensuing years the talent level has increased and they were just waiting for something good to happen.

"I'm just happy that it's happened and I wish everybody so much good luck."